A good bit of this chapter is my own, using CH’s characters, Eric and Sookie, of course, sands the supernatural elements. The rest is from S. Morgenstern’s classic tale of true love and high adventure, The Princess Bride/the “good parts” version, abridged by William Goldman. Morganstern’s original words will be proceeded and ended with asterisks. I claim no rights to either CH’s characters and words or Morgenstern’s. No infringement is intended.
I used many of Morganstern’s words because, well, you just can’t beat them and I wanted to stick close to the heart of the story, at least with this first chapter. I urge you, if you haven’t read the abridged version, to PLEASE do so. BEST BOOK EVER! I plan on veering off at bit here and there after this, but hope to continue in the classic true love, high adventure vein.
Adults rarely ever tell children the truth. They really don’t. Yet they insist that the children themselves always speak it. “You must not tell lies!” they scold. All the while they fib left and right.
“Everything will be fine,” they say. “It will get better, you’ll see.” Or: “You’ll grow up and be rich and beautiful and have a wonderful life full of love and happiness,” they coo, then crow, “You’re the most intelligent child I’ve ever known. You’ll find a rich handsome husband (beautiful wife) who will love you dearly. Nothing bad will ever happen to you, my dear.”
What a crock of horseshit!
Well, for most at least. It would only be fair to admit that for a small few it does work out that way, though the happiness part is still strongly questionable. In short, life is not fair. Never has been, never will be. Do not listen to anyone who says otherwise.
Do you know what else? No one knows when their world will change. Sometimes it changes and it takes them hours, days, or even weeks before they realize it. It sneaks in slowly, like the autumn taking hold from the summer. Or it can come crashing in like the giant waves of an angry ocean during a storm. The thing is, most are never ready for it either way and certainly are not prone to welcome it when it decides to make itself known.
Being the stubborn, silly girl she was it more or less slapped her in the face. And then it did it again and again. Apparently she was not a fast learner.
She, being one Susannah Elizabeth Brigant Stackhouse, or thank goodness for us, Sookie for short. Born to wealthy parents on the island of Martinque in the crystal blue waters of the Caribbean. Sookie was a free spirit of the most unfettered kind. She would much rather ride her horse than anything else. She was not fond of chores, lessons, rules, or especially bathing. With the sticky, oppressive heat that seemed to be constant despite the ocean breezes, that particular quirk was very much frowned upon by her Mother.
One thing that did please Michelle about her unruly daughter was this: Susannah was the most beautiful child ever born in the Caribbean. In fact she was the most beautiful in all of the Americas. By seventeen she was the twentieth most beautiful in all the world. And she would only rise in the rankings as she grew into a lady.
It was odd though, because her parents were not much to look at. Not hideous or anything so drastic, but not pleasant to the eyes either. How Susannah emerged from her mother’s womb looking like an angel sent from heaven itself no one seems to know. They chalked it up to more good fortune and immediately started thinking of whom she could marry one day to fill the family coffers even more.
She was certain to land a big fish.
That was exactly their hopes as they drug Sookie out to the lawn in front of their house to greet Count deCastro and his Countess on this sweltering day. Her parents were practically giddy, it was all they could think about. Surely the deCastro’s had heard of their daughter’s beauty and knew of a proper suitor for her. They just had to be here to announce this suitors intentions.
But at seventeen, marriage was the last thing on Sookie’s mind. Her mother was married and she was far from happy so why on earth would she want to be like her. Love was stupid. At least that was what she thought before the deCastro’s carriage pulled up in front of her.
But before the day was over Sookie would become so unsettled by a change of heart she would fail to notice some very important happenings.
Count deCastro left his carriage, gracefully. He moved to the ground and stood very still. He wasn’t a big man, but had a swarthy appearance, dark skin, black hair, and blacker eyes. His black cape and gloves added to the visage. How he stood to wear either in the oppressive heat was a mystery.
His Countess descended next and at first Sookie found her to be the most beautiful woman she had ever seen. She was tall and slender as a willow, had perfectly pale skin, and carried herself like the royal she was. Her lips were painted a perfect red that didn’t clash with the deep red of her expertly arranged hair. Her bright green cat-like eyes were lined in black and all the colors of the world were muted in her gown.
“Curtsy, dear,” Michelle whispered harshly to Sookie.
Sookie did as pleasantries were exchanged between the elders. It did not escape her parents that the Count could not stop looking at her. Which was surprising. Her hair was uncombed and even unwashed much to Michelle’s horror. At just seventeen, there was still, in occasional places, the remains of baby fat. Her once bright white dress, now a dingy beige, was self altered to keep her cool; sleeves ripped out and the skirt hacked off roughly at the knees. And of course she was barefoot. She looked like a filthy unkempt orphan. *Nothing was really there but potential. But the Count still could not rip his eyes away.* It was only Sookie who noticed that Lady deCastro only had eyes for Eric, the stable boy.
The Countess suddenly became nothing more than a gaudy Christmas tree on two spindly trunks in Sookie’s eyes.
“Is that him?” the Countess asked, pointing behind them.
“Who, ma’am?” Sookie’s father, Corbet asked her. Sookie knew exactly whom.
“The stable boy, the one that is magic with horses.”
Sookie’s father glanced back toward the lone figure peering around the corner of the house.
“That is our stable boy.”
“Bring him here.”
“But he’s . . he’s half naked,” Michelle whispered, becoming more embarrassed with the state of her charges by the moment.
“I have seen naked chests before,” the Countess replied. Then she called out, “Boy!” pointing at Eric. “Come here,” she ordered, snapping her fingers.
Eric did as he was told. He came forward until he was a few steps behind Sookie, then stopped, his head respectfully lowered. Sookie could see the flush of embarrassment on his cheeks from his lack of clothes. He only wore a pair of ragged pants and worn out boots. His hands were clasped behind his back.
“What is your name, boy?”
“Eric, Countess,” he mumbled, not looking up.
*“Well, Eric, perhaps you can help us with our problem.” She crossed to him. The fabric of her sleeve grazed his bare arm as she walked slowly around him. “We are all passionately interested in the subject of horses.”*
Michelle and Corbet finally stopped watching the Count watching their daughter and looked at one another in confusion. Horses? They were suppose to be here about Sookie.
Whom, at this moment, was frozen, her eyes locked on the gaudy Christmas tree prowling around Eric.
*”We are practically reaching the point of frenzy, such is our curiosity. Why, do you suppose, Eric, that the horses of this particular plantation are the finest in all of the Caribbean? What do you do to them?”* she asked, leaning much closer to him than Sookie believed necessary.
What on earth was she going on about? There was nothing special about their horses.
“I just feed them, Countess,” Eric said, finally looking at the woman.
Sookie’s insides clinched painfully when he did.
*“Well then, there it is, the mystery is solved, the secret; we can all rest. Clearly, the magic is in Eric’s feeding. Show me how you do it, would you, Eric?”*
*“Feed the horses for you, Countess?” he stuttered.
“Now will be soon enough,”* she purred.
Eric swallowed deeply then his eyes turned to Sookie’s wide ones and softened as he said, “As you wish,” holding out his arm for the Countess, never letting his eyes stray from Sookie.
Now might be a good time to introduce this stable boy to you.
Eric had been living at the plantation since he was eight and his parents were lost at sea. Sookie’s Grandfather had known Eric’s father and took the gangly child under his care. He had been all arms and legs then, with a mop of hair the same shade as Sookie’s and their eyes were both as blue as the Caribbean Sea. Sookie’s held the same blue as when the sun shone through the water. Eric’s were the sea before a storm. Had they been closer in age they would have past for twins. Eric was allowed to live in the main house at first and the two became fast friends, the plantation their playground.
For five years they were inseparable, running across the fields and down to the beach to swim; racing their horses over the bright green hills. Then Eric took a growth spurt his thirteenth year, Sookie’s tenth, and Michelle put her foot down. He was not of their calibre, and he was getting too old to play with her daughter, it just wasn’t proper anymore. And Papa Brigant, Eric’s champion, had died two months before. There was no one left to stop Michelle from ruling everyone with her illogical rantings.
Eric was moved over the stables and taught by old Mr. Lafayette to tend the horses, while Michelle filled her daughter’s head with petty lies about poor, penniless farm boys wanting to steal their money.
Sookie and Eric both were very upset for a time, but eventually got used to being apart. Eric was too busy with his work to steal any time away to sneak in and see her and Michelle began schooling Sookie in the ways of being a lady. Not that any of the lessons took really.
Before long they were both teenagers, him shy and awkward, her unruly and arrogant. Their only times together were spent with Sookie ordering him around.
“Boy, fetch my horse,” she would demand haughtily.
“As you wish,” he would smile softly in response.
“Boy, bring me some water.”
“As you wish.”
“Clean my saddle, boy.”
“As you wish.”
No matter her demand he always answered the same: sweetly, with a smile, “As you wish.”
It wasn’t until just now, this fateful day that the Count and Countess came by and she heard Eric’s words spoken directly to her again that Sookie suddenly realized things had changed dramatically and the true meaning of those words she had heard so often.
Every time Eric said ‘As you wish’ what he was really saying was, ‘I love you’.
He loved her.
He had just looked her dead in the eye and told her he loved her right in front of that nasty Countess too. Easy as you please, like he always had, like he had told her everyday of her life. She knew then that he had, she just hadn’t been listening.
Eric had loved the wild and untamed girl for some time. The change from seeing her as only a playmate to pick on to adoring love had come to him like a gentle spring breeze. He had embraced it wholeheartedly and choose to love her with everything he was.
But the realization was so shocking to Sookie it was as if a giant wave came out of nowhere and slapped her against a hard, sandy beach. She came up scared and sputtering, standing in shock, teetering on shaky legs, her emotions running rampant as she watched the Countess smile at Eric, so beautiful, shirtless and golden in the blistering sun.
The vile woman linked her arm through his, then rubbed her other hand over his strong forearm, giggling at whatever he had just said to her.
Sookie could hear nothing but the sound of her pounding heart.
Eric and the Countess turned and headed towards the stables, oblivious to Sookie’s trembling, distressed body.
How dare that hussy touch him that way! Look at him that way!
“I’ll help!” Sookie yelled, running to catch up to them. She’d be damned if she was going to let that wonton molest that sweet boy.
The Count perked up, “They’ll need my help too, I suppose,” he said, and hurriedly followed Sookie to the barn.
*“Strange things are happening,” her Father said to her Mother, and off they went, bringing up the rear of the horse-feeding trip, watching the Count, who was watching their daughter, who was watching the Countess.
Who was watching Eric.*
Sookie was flustered the rest of the day, she still was as a matter of fact. She had only picked at her supper, barely listening to her parents ramble on about their high class visitors that day. Now she was in her room, pacing across the worn floorboards.
All the pacing was getting her no where. *She flung herself across her bed and squeezed her eyes shut.
And there was the Countess was staring at Eric.
With a irritated groan she got back up from the bed. She stripped off her clothes and washed a little, then threw on her nightgown. She crawled between the sheets, snuggled in, and closed her eyes.
The Countess was still staring at Eric!
Sookie threw back the sheets and hurried across her room, flinging open her door. She ran down the stairs and went out to the kitchen. She got herself a cup of water and drank it down, then splashed some across her forehead. She felt feverish, but not sick feverish. She had always been healthy as a horse.
Ahhhh! Stupid, stupid horses!
She dumped the cup firmly into the sink, turned, marched back to her room, shut the door, and went back to bed. She closed her eyes tight.
The Countess would NOT stop staring at Eric!
Why? Why in the world would the woman be interested in the stable boy? She was married, rich, and popular. Sookie rolled over in bed. And there simply was no other way of deciphering that look—the Countess was interested. Sookie shut her eyes tighter and studied her memory of the high class harlot. Clearly, something about the Eric interested her. But what?
Yes, he had eyes like the sea before a storm, but who cared about eyes? And he had pale blond hair, if you liked that sort of thing. And he was broad enough in the shoulders, but not all that much broader than the Count. And certainly he was muscular, but anybody would be muscular who slaved all day. And his skin was perfect and tan, but again that was from slaving in the sun all day. Who wouldn’t be tan?* And he was taller than the Count. He could be considered too tall even, although *his stomach was flat and rippled with muscle, but that was just because he was younger.*
Sookie sat up in bed. Maybe it’s his teeth? Eric did have good teeth. White and perfect, particularly set against that tanned face of his. Good teeth were such a rarity. Could it have been anything else? Sookie thought hard.
The girls in the village followed Eric around like lost puppies whenever he was making deliveries, but they were idiots, they followed anything. And he always ignored them, because if he’d ever opened his mouth, they would have realized that was all he had, just good teeth; he was, after all, exceptionally stupid.
It was really very strange that a woman as beautiful and slender and willowy and graceful, a creature, as perfectly packaged, as supremely dressed, as the Countess should be hung up on teeth that way.
It was ridiculous even. They were teeth for heaven’s sake!
Sookie shrugged. People were surprisingly complicated. But now she had it all figured out and clear, so she closed her eyes and snuggled down and got all nice and comfortable.
People don’t look at other people the way the Countess looked at Eric because of their teeth.
“Oh,” Sookie gasped. “Oh no, oh dear.”
Now Eric was staring back at the Countess.
He was feeding the horses and his muscles were rippling the way they always did under his tanned skin and Sookie was standing there watching as he looked deep into the Countess’s eyes.
Sookie jumped out of bed and began to pace her room again.
How could he? Oh, it was all right if he looked at her, but he wasn’t looking at her, he was looking at her!
“She’s so old,” Sookie scoffed, starting to fume a bit.
The Countess would never see thirty again and that was a fact. And her dress looked ridiculous out in the dirty barn. Stupid gaudy Christmas tree looking frock that it was.
Sookie fell onto her bed and clutched her pillow across her breasts. The dress was ridiculous before it ever got to the barn. The Countess looked rotten the minute she left the carriage, with her too big painted mouth and her little piggy painted eyes and her powdered skin and . . . and . . . and . . .
Flailing and thrashing, Sookie wept and tossed and paced and wept some more, and there have been three great cases of jealousy since David of Galilee was first afflicted with the emotion when he could no longer stand the fact that his neighbor Saul’s cactus outshone his own. Sookie’s case rated a close fourth on the all-time list. It was a very long and very green night.
She was outside the barn before dawn. Inside, she could hear him already awake. She knocked. He appeared and stood in the doorway. Behind him she could see a tiny candle and open books. He waited, looking down at her with an eyebrow arched high over one stormy blue eye.
She looked away. She looked back at him. Then she looked away again.
He was too beautiful.*
He made her brain turn to mush.
“I love you,” she blurted out, then the floodgates of her heart burst open and out her mouth. *“I know this must come as something of a surprise, since I all but forgot about you, scorned you, and degraded you, and taunted you, but I have loved you for several hours now, and every second I love you more. I thought an hour ago that I loved you more than any woman has ever loved a man, but a half hour after that I knew that what I felt before was nothing compared to what I felt then. But ten minutes after that, I understood that my previous love was a puddle compared to the high seas before a storm. Your eyes are like that, did you know? Well they are. How many minutes ago was I? Twenty? Had I brought my feelings up to then? It doesn’t matter.”
Sookie still could not look at him. The sun was rising behind her now; she could feel the heat on her back, and it gave her courage. “I love you so much more now than when you opened the door, there cannot be comparison. There is no room in my body for anything but you. My arms love you, my ears adore you, my knees shake with blind affection. My mind begs you to ask it something so it can obey. Do you want me to follow you for the rest of your days? I will. Do you want me to crawl? I’ll crawl. I will be quiet for you or sing for you, or if you are hungry, I’ll bring you food, or if you’re thirsty I’ll make you wine. Anything there is that I can do for you, I will do it. If there is something I cannot do, I will learn to do it. I know I cannot compete with the Countess in skills or wisdom or appeal, and I saw the way she looked at you. And I saw the way you looked at her. But remember, please, that she is old and married to another, while I am young and for me there is only you. Dearest Eric—I’ve never called you that before, have I? Eric, Eric, Eric, Eric, Eric- darling, adored Eric, sweet, perfect Eric, whisper that I have a chance to win your love.”
And with that, she dared the bravest thing she’d ever done: she looked right into his eyes. He closed the door in her face without a word.
Without a word.
Sookie ran. She whirled around and ran away. The tears came hard and bitterly. She could not see a thing and she stumbled. Slamming into a tree trunk. She fell, rose, ran on, her shoulder throbbing from where the tree trunk hit her. The pain was strong, but not enough to ease her shattered heart. She ran back to her room, back to her pillow.
Safe behind the locked door, she drenched the world with tears.
Not even one word. He hadn’t had the decency for that. “Sorry,” he could have said. Would it have killed him to say “sorry”? “Too late,” he could have said. Why couldn’t he at least have said something?
Sookie thought very hard about that for a moment and suddenly she had the answer: he didn’t talk because the minute he opened his mouth, that was it. Sure he was handsome, but dumb? The minute he had exercised his tongue, it would have all been over.
That’s what he would have said. That was the kind of thing Eric came out with when he was feeling really sharp. “Duhhhhhhh, tanks, Sookie.”
Sookie dried her tears and began to smile. She took a deep breath and heaved a sigh. It was just a silly notion. Girls got these quick little passions and with a blink they were gone. You forgave faults, found perfection, fell madly in love, then the next day the sun came up and it was all gone.
It was just a silly fling.
Sookie stood, made her bed, changed her clothes, combed her hair, smiled, and burst into tears again. Because really, there was a limit to just how much you could lie to yourself.
Eric wasn’t stupid.
Oh, she could pretend he was. She could laugh about his difficulties with the language. She could chide herself for her silly infatuation with a dullard. The truth was simply this: he had a head on his shoulders. With a brain inside every bit as good as his perfect teeth. There was a reason he hadn’t spoken and it had nothing to do with his gray cells not working. He hadn’t spoken because, really, there was nothing for him to say. He didn’t love her back and that was that.*
She was the stupid one thinking his ‘As you wish’ was the same as ‘I love you’.
Stupid, stupid, stupid girl!
*The tears that kept Sookie company the remainder of the day were not at all like those that had blinded her into the tree trunk.
Those were noisy and hot, these were silent and steady and all they did was remind her that she wasn’t good enough. She was seventeen, and every male she’d ever known had crumbled at her feet and it meant nothing. The one time it mattered, she wasn’t good enough. For the first time she realized life wasn’t fair.
All she knew really was riding, and how was that to interest a man when that man had been looked at by the Countess?
It was nighttime again when she heard a tap at her window. She wiped her eyes. Another tap, this time louder.*
“Who is it?” she huffed, but that was all for show. Her heart was in her throat. She wanted desperately for it to be him.
The name she most wanted to hear was uttered quietly through the glass and wood.
“Eric,” she whispered loudly, scurrying across the bed and then to the window, flinging it open.
There he was, standing on her balcony, even golden and beautiful in the moonlight.
Her nerves took over, “I’m so glad you snuck up here. I’ve been feeling horrible about the the trick I pulled on you this morning. I hope I didn’t hurt your feelings. I only meant to have a little fun. It was cruel of me really. But you knew the whole time I’m sure. Just like when we were little, right? Teasing and picking on each other.”
*”I’ve come to say goodbye.”
Her heart stuttered, “You mean goodnight. That’s so sweet of you after what I did. I hope you sleep….”
“I’m leaving, Sookie,” he says softly.
“Leaving?” she gasps, the floor pitching beneath her* or was that her head spinning? “Because of me?” she asks, choking back a cry.
“Because I said I love you?”
“Yes,”* he answers with the same smile she realizes he has always given to only her.
How dare he mock her!
Anger washes over her, taking the place of her fear, “Fine then. You’ve made your choice. I hope she makes you happy. But do not come crawling to me when she trades you in for a new stable boy, because I won’t take you back.”
Eric scowls at her in confusion. Sookie sees it as defiance.
“Just because you’re beautiful and perfect doesn’t mean someone new won’t catch her eye. She’ll toss you aside like yesterday’s pig slop. You’re crazy if you think she won’t. She’ll remember you’re just a poor penniless stable boy who isn’t as good as she thinks she is.”
“I’m going north to the states, to America. To seek my fortune. There are boundless opportunities there. I work harder than anyone on this island, I’m strong. I’ve taught myself how to go without sleep. I only need a few hours a night now. I’ll work two jobs and save everything except what little bit I need for food. I’ll buy a farm and build a house with a bed big enough for two inside of it.”
Sookie laughs darkly, “You think she’s going to leave behind her fancy house and her fancy clothes and the rich husband she has to live on a poor man’s farm in America? You’re as stupid as I thought you were last night.”
“Would you pleeeeaaase stop talking about that dreadful woman. If only because you love me and don’t want me to be driven mad!”
Eric sighs loudly, stepping forward and taking Sookie into his arms, confusing her totally. He hasn’t touched her since they were children. “You’re completely lost, aren’t you?” he asks.
“You’ve never been very bright, but I know you can figure this out. Think.”
“You really love me?” she asks, unsure.
His beautiful eyes roll so far back in his head she worries they’ll be stuck and she’ll never get to see them again. She begins to cry knowing he thinks her ridiculous.
He tuts, “My silly girl.” *He just couldn’t believe her sometimes. “Do I love you? My God, if your love were a grain of sand, mine would be a universe of beaches. If your love were—”*
“Truly. *I have stayed these years on this plantation because of you. I have taught myself languages because of you. I have made my body strong because I thought you might be pleased by a strong body. I have lived my life with only the prayer that some sudden dawn you might glance in my direction. I have not known a moment in years when the sight of you did not send my heart careening against my rib cage. Even when we were children. I have not known a night when your beautiful face did not accompany me to sleep. There has not been a morning when you did not flutter behind my waking eyelids. . . Is any of this getting through to you, Sookie, or do you want me to go on for a while?”* he smirks down at her.
*“Never stop,” she said, nearly breathless.
“There has not been—”
“If you’re teasing me, Eric, I’m just going to kill you.”
“How can you even dream I might be teasing?”
“Well, you haven’t once said you loved me.”
“That’s all you need? Easy. I love you. Okay? Want it louder? I love you. Spell it out, should I? I ell-oh-vee-ee why-oh-you. Want it backward? You love I.”*
Sookie giggles into his chest, “Stop, silly, you are teasing me now.”
*“A little maybe. I’ve been saying it so long to you, you just wouldn’t listen. Every time you said ‘Boy do this’ you thought I was answering ‘As you wish’ but that’s only because you were hearing wrong.”*
“You were saying, I love you,” she finishes for him.
“Yes. Yes, I was, but you never heard, you never heard,” he says, sadly.
“Oh, Eric. I’m so sorry. I hear you now, and *I promise you this: I will never love anyone else. Only you. Until I die,”*she swears to him.
He leans down and presses his lips to her forehead, “As I will you,” he whispers. “I’ll send for you soon. Believe me.”
“I do, but must you leave? I have only just realized how very much I love you. It will be positively dreadful without you here,” she whines.
“I must. I am late even now. I hate it, but I must. The ship sails soon and America is far,” he says, pulling her tighter into his arms.
“Take me with you,” she begs him.
He reaches up with his right hand and cups her face. Sookie is finding it very hard to breathe.
“A ship on the sea is no place for a lady. I will return, I swear it.” he vows. “You’ll wait for me?”
“Yes, my sweet Eric. Forever if I must,” Sookie promises
“Goodbye,” he whispers.
She makes a little nod, her bottom lip trapped between her teeth. She can’t say the words. She knows they will pierce her heart if she does.
*He takes a step back, not turning. She watches him. He turns and the words rip out of her, “Without one kiss?”
They fell into each other’s arms.
There have been five great kisses since 1642 B.C., when Saul and Delilah Korn’s inadvertent discovery swept across Western civilization. (Before then couples hooked thumbs.) And the precise rating of kisses is a terribly difficult thing, often leading to great controversy, because although everyone agrees with the formula of affection times purity times intensity times duration, no one has ever been completely satisfied with how much weight each element should receive. But on any system, there are five that everyone agrees deserve full marks.
Well, this one left them all behind.*
And gave them both the strength they needed to part. Sookie stood on her balcony watching her love walk away from her in the moonlight until she could no longer see him. Falling asleep that night was nearly impossible with her emotions soaring to teetering heights when she thought of Eric telling her he loved her, then they would plummet to the pits of hell as she thought of how long she would be without him. She finally succumbed to sleep, tears dampening her cheeks, a soft smile on her face.
The next morning Sookie woke feeling fine and then the night came rushing back to her. Eric loved her and she loved him. She couldn’t be happier. But Eric was gone and there was no way to know when he would be back.
Despair overtook her and she wallowed in it like a pig in mud. Her Eric was gone! How would she ever survive? Life was so unfair! So horribly, horribly unfair.
She was learning. Unfortunately, life wasn’t quite done teaching her. We’ll get to that later.
Sookie sobbed for a good ten minutes before a tragic thought hit her. What if while she was laying here crying herself into a slobby mess, Eric found another? A beautiful girl who didn’t cry herself into an ugly old hag. *Or worse yet, what if Eric came back and saw her haggard, weeping self and said, “I’m going back without you, the moping has destroyed your eyes, the self-pity has taken your skin; you’re a slobby-looking creature, I’m marrying an Indian girl who lives in a teepee nearby and is always in the peak of condition.”*
Sookie jumped up and ran to her mirror searching her reflection for flaws. She was an utter mess. *”Oh, Eric! I will never disappoint you again!”* she swore to him and herself too.
She rushed to her parents, who were fussing as usual at the breakfast table. “I need help,” she rushed out, “What must I do to make myself more presentable?”
Michelle stared at her daughter is shock. She could hardly believe it, was her daughter finally ready to be the lady she had always begged her to be?
Her father, never looking up from his morning paper said, “Washing the stink of horse and sweat from yourself would be a good place to start.”
Her mother woke from her stupefaction, “Your hair!” she shouted with excitement, jumping up from her chair, her dishes clattering from the upset.
“Maybe scrub off the caked on mud from behind your ears and between your toes.”
Another of her father’s tips.
“Your nails!” her mother shouted again. “A lady must have clean nails.”
“Don’t forgot her knees and elbows, they’re rough as corncobs.”
“Alright! That’s quite enough,” Sookie said, exasperated. “Good grief, who knew it was such work to be well kept?”
Michelle didn’t bother answering her daughter, instead she rushed her to the washroom and proceeded to scrub every grimy inch of her until her skin had a bright pink glow and her hair was shining like the sun.
Every morning after, Sookie bathed herself until she sparkled. While her long hair dried she would trim her nails, or rub the sweet smelling creams her mother gave her into her skin. No more rough as a cob elbows and knees for her. Then she would spend an hour brushing her hair to a glistening gold. One thousand strokes. It took that many when you had long, thick hair like she did. It made her arms tried, but that was a small price to pay when she thought of how Eric’s face would look when he saw it the first time. He had never seen her clean before, he would be so surprised he would probably weep with happiness.
Her mother already was. Quite often actually.
Sookie had risen in the standings for most beautiful woman considerably. From twentieth to fifteeth with just a single bath! Just amazing it was. Never is the history of women had one excelled so quickly. Her momentum did not stop there though. A long letter arrived from Eric just a couple of weeks later, he had made it to the Florida keys, Sookie vaulted to eighth just by reading his sweet words. It was her love for him that was the cause of her beauty those days. She loved him more with each one that passed, she simply glowed. The folks in the village were awestruck. Michelle had taken her since she was no longer embarrassed to and people couldn’t believe she was even the same girl. Most stopped and stared in wonder, others had to speak to her just so they could say they did.
They knew exactly what her secret was after they did too.
Eric, Eric, Eric, Eric, Eric. He was all Sookie could speak of. She made many late for their suppers she could speak so much on the subject of her sweet Eric. Wonderful, brilliant, gentle, hard working, loving, incredibly perfect Eric. Loving him not only made her more beautiful, it made her much more agreeable and dear too. She was actually nice to be around now that she was so happy and didn’t smell of sweaty horse. So people found joy in listening to her go on and on. She loved him so completely after all.
But as you’ve been told, life is not fair, it can be exceedingly cruel in fact.
*He had written to her just before he sailed for America. The Queen’s Pride was his ship, and he loved her. (That was the way his sentences always went: It is raining today and I love you. My cold is better and I love you. Say hello to Horse and I love you. Like that.) Then there were no letters, but that was natural; he was at sea. Then she heard. She came home from the village and her parents were wooden.
“Off the Carolina coast,” her father whispered.
Her mother whispered, “Without warning. At night.”
“Pirates,” said her father.
Sookie thought she’d better sit down.
Quiet in the room.
“He’s been taken prisoner then?” she managed.
Her mother made a “no.”
“It was Roberts,” her father said. “The Dread Pirate Roberts.”
“Oh,” Sookie said. “The one who never leaves survivors.”
“Yes,” her father said.
Quiet in the room.
Suddenly Sookie was talking very fast: “Was he stabbed? . . . Did he drown? . . . Did they cut his throat asleep? . . . Did they wake him, do you suppose? . . . Perhaps they whipped him dead . . . . ” She stood up then. “I’m getting silly, forgive me.” She shook her head. “As if the way they got him matters. Excuse me, please.”
With that she hurried to her room. She stayed there many days. At first her parents tried to lure her, but she would not have it. They took to leaving food outside her room, and she took bits and shreds, enough to stay alive. There was never noise inside, no wailing, no bitter sounds. And when she at last came out, her eyes were dry. Her parents stared up from their silent breakfast at her. They both started to rise but she put a hand out, stopped them.
“I can care for myself, please,” and she set about getting some food.
They watched her closely. In point of fact, she had never looked as well. She had entered her room as just an impossibly lovely girl. The woman who emerged was a trifle thinner, a great deal wiser, an ocean sadder. This one understood the nature of pain, and beneath the glory of her features, there was character, and a sure knowledge of suffering. She was eighteen. She was the most beautiful woman in a hundred years. She didn’t seem to care.
“You’re all right?” her mother asked.
Sookie sipped her cocoa. “Fine,” she said.
“You’re sure?” her father wondered.
“Yes,” she replied. There was a very long pause. “But I must never love again.”
She never did.*