Stephanie felt her heart break as she listened to Eric tell their son that he didn’t have anything else Ridge could want; he already had it all. Most women would have been angry over the reference to the other woman that had stolen her husband away, but Stephanie wasn’t. She knew that Eric wasn’t upset over the Ridge and Brooke thing from years ago. What she heard in his voice was bitterness over her always choosing their son, always making their son number one. Had she really given their son most, or all, of her love?
Ridge was surprised to see his mother standing in the foyer, and started to say something, but kept quiet when she shook her head. He didn’t know how much she’d heard, but by the look on her face, she’d heard enough to either make her angry or upset, he wasn’t sure which one. Squeezing her shoulder as he passed, he walked out the door as if he’d not seen a thing, closing it behind him so that his father could hear.
Stephanie took a deep breath then walked slowly to where Eric sat staring down into his drink. “Eric,” she whispered as she reached out, touching his shoulder. “Is that really how you feel? Have I really given everything to Ridge?”
Eric felt his heart drop to his stomach at the sound of her voice. He had never intended for her to know, for her to hear how bitter he was. He knew her well enough to know that his words had hurt her. Placing his drink on the table in front of him, he reached back and took her hand, bringing her around to share the chair with him. Scooting over to make her more comfortable, he held her hand. “I’m sorry you heard us, Stephanie.”
“Is it true?” she asked, not looking him in the eye. “I love you, Eric.”
“I know you do, but,” he sighed.
“But?” she prodded.
“But you only say it. You’re full, unconditional love has always been Ridge’s. I’ve always been second.”
Stephanie swallowed against the pain his words caused to well up inside her. Standing, she walked to the fireplace and stood staring at her reflection in the mirror, wondering again who she was. How could she claim to love Eric yet always choose their son over him?
Eric watched Stephanie as she stared at herself in the mirror. Frowning when she reached out and traced her reflection, he wondered what she was thinking. “Stephanie? I didn’t mean to hurt you.”
She shook her head. “No, Eric. Don’t apologize. Never apologize for telling me the truth, especially when it’s the truth about us.” She continued to stare at herself. “Why are you with me? You’re so bitter over my loving Ridge the most, I don’t understand why you would ask me back.”
“Stephanie, I asked because I love you.” He moved behind her.
“Who am I, Eric?” she questioned.
“Who am I?” she asked again.
Gripping her shoulders, his eyes met hers in the mirror. “You’re Stephanie Elizabeth Forrester. You’re my best friend, my lover, my partner, the mother of my children. You’re the other half of me.” He turned her to face him, his hands moving to cup her face. “You’re my heart,” his voice was low and tender as he finished.
“How can you say that I’m your heart when you feel the way you do about me?”
“The way I feel about you?” he asked, confusion written on his face. “Sweetheart, I love you. Why wouldn’t I say that? It’s the truth. Even when I’ve been with other women, when I’ve tried to forget you and get you out of my heart, I could never let you go.”
“But you sounded so bitter.”
“I suppose I am, Stephanie. What man wouldn’t be a little bitter that his lover constantly chooses their son over him?” he asked, caressing away a stray tear that rolled down her cheek. “That doesn’t mean I can’t still think of you as all of those things, Stephanie. Didn’t last night prove to you just how much I love you?”
Stephanie swallowed back the sob that welled up inside her at the thought of last night and the way he’d made love to her. The day wasn’t over yet, there was still a chance that it would be the last time. Leaning against him, she sighed when he wrapped his arms around her. “Last night was beautiful. You made it that way for me,” she whispered.
Gently swaying her, Eric hummed softly as he held her close and thought of the way things had been going the last few days. She’d been coughing again, something that scared him even though she’d sworn that she hadn’t gotten bad news from the doctor. Their son was jumping from one marriage to another so fast one barely had time to blink. Their grandson had sex with their daughter-in-law, his step-mother. It was just all so crazy. Then there was whatever was upsetting the woman in his arms. Of course, what he’d said earlier only added to it and he felt terrible even though she’d told him not to be sorry for telling the truth.
“Sweetheart,” he whispered as he pressed a kiss to her head.
“Mmm?” she murmured.
“Did you have a good time at the shower?”
“I was late, but yes. Steffy decided to play some of those crazy games.”
Even though she’d said she had fun, Eric didn’t believe her. He could hear it in her voice. “Want to cuddle on the sofa with me for a little while?”
Stephanie pulled back and stared up at him. “You want to cuddle?”
He winked and nodded. “I do. You go on up and put on something comfortable and I’ll go start our dinner. We can cuddle up on the sofa while it’s cooking.”
Stephanie cocked her head as she studied him. “I don’t understand you.”
“Have you ever?” he asked with a smile to take the sting out of his words.
“No, I don’t suppose I have.”
“And I’ve never really understood you. So, I guess that means we’re even.” He pressed a kiss to her forehead. “Maybe we can use these supposed golden years to try to figure each other out, huh?”
She nodded and tried to smile. “Maybe,” she whispered as she walked away from him, slowly and tiredly making her way to the stairs.
Eric watched Stephanie until she disappeared upstairs then made his way to the kitchen. She was tired from not sleeping well, something the slump of her shoulders told him, something he knew first hand from the way she’d been tossing and turning. He’d felt her get out of bed last night, and had thought about going to her, but had opted instead to lie quietly and watch her staring out into the moonlit night. She was troubled, more troubled than she had been in a very long time. He just couldn’t figure out what it was that was bothering her.
Shaking his head, he made his way to the kitchen, wondering just what he could fix that would take enough time for him to cuddle her for more than a few minutes.
Stephanie sighed as she pulled the collar of Eric’s shirt up to her nose, inhaling the familiar and comforting scent of him. Tying the drawstring of her lounge pants, she shrugged when she saw herself in the mirror. “He did say comfortable,” she mumbled to herself as she continued on her way out of the bedroom, turning off the light as she went. She was tired. Her restless nights were catching up to her.
She knew that Eric had woke up with her last night and just laid quietly watching her. She’d half expected him to come to her and tell her to come back to bed and get some rest, but he hadn’t. For that she was grateful. Being wrapped in his arms had lulled her to sleep for a little while, but the dreams had returned. She hadn’t wanted to disturb him anymore than she already had with her tossing and turning so she’d gotten up to stare out the window. Going back to bed would only have led to more tossing and turning, more bad dreams.
Pausing at the entrance to the living room, Stephanie watched Eric as he paged through the book he was holding. He was so very handsome sitting there in his white shirt and grey cardigan, his silver hair shining in the sunlight coming in the open balcony doors. She still didn’t understand how he could proclaim her the other half of him when he was so clearly bitter over the way she treated him down through the years. But as they’d said earlier, when had she ever understood him?
“I hope I’m not too comfortable,” she murmured as she moved quietly over to him.
Turning at the sound of her voice, Eric shook his head, his eyes taking in the fact that she was wearing one of his shirts, something she had always done when she needed comfort. “Not at all. I told you to get comfortable, I meant it.” He held out his hand. “Come here,” his voice was soft as he beckoned her to sit beside him.
Stephanie sat down in the place he’d made for her by his side, sighing when he maneuvered their positions so that their legs were on the sofa, her back against his chest. Closing her eyes when his arms went around her, she felt at ease for the first time since this whole mess had started. Feeling his warm lips brushing soft kisses across her cheek, she snuggled closer, enjoying his love and comfort.
“The bitter truth of it all, Stephanie, is that we’re human,” he whispered after a few moments of silently enjoying each other’s company. “I’ve been a fool over the years, holding all of this in when I should have talked to you, told you how I felt.” He shrugged. “I guess my bitterness became my companion, one that never disappointed me or left my side, gave its attention to someone else.”
Twining her fingers with his, she caressed the long fingers that had brought her so much pleasure down through the years. “I’m sorry, Eric. Sorry for not being that companion.”
“Shh,” he soothed, his free hand caressing her hair. “When first I looked into your eyes, each breath became a thousand sighs. My heart drummed out a thunder beat, I glowed with joy from head to feet. The hand of love had touched my soul, as the bell of destiny began to toll. The tide of love began to rise, the world was filled with summer skies. My sodden clouds of cold and grey, glowed with gold, then wisped away. A brilliant rainbow arched across, as waves of love began to toss. The air was filled with lovebird cries, when I first looked into your eyes. When I first looked into your eyes, all time and space were paralyzed. And in that instant I was shown a universe I had never known. I dwell there still, in Paradise, when I look into your eyes.”
“What was that?” she asked when he finished.
“A poem I found. Made me think of you and how I felt when I first saw you across that crowded room at the frat party.”
“Oh Eric,” she whispered as she looked up at him, her own soul getting lost in his eyes. He’d been right, the bitter truth was that they were human, her more so than him.
Would he forgive her for what she’d done?