Still December 14, 2004
Eric POV, continued
I continued going through Bill’s footlocker, making sure all the clothes had nothing in the pockets and were refolded perfectly.
With Bill’s death, the path of my life really had changed. I’d actually been planning to have a pretty big part in the Comptons’ life in a way, having finally agreed to spend my next leave in Louisiana with Bill since my house in Long Beach had sold. Bill had even convinced me that I should consider buying a house in Bon Temps and settling down in the area, and—since I didn’t have anywhere else to go that the military didn’t send me to—I had decided that his idea was a good one. In fact, I’d already put in the paperwork to be stationed at Bailey Base in Shreveport once I went back Stateside.
Bill, too, would have been able to make Bailey his “home base” for his 4 years in the Reserves. Indeed, I’d also been contemplating leaving active service and transitioning to the Reserves. Bill had all but talked me into getting some kind of a degree, telling me that I could work on his large property in the meantime.
I wondered if I could get back my transfer paperwork before it went through. After all, without Bill to offer me some kind of a semblance of a family in the States, I figured that any base where the Marines sent me would be just as good as any other.
Of course, I’d have to survive my current tour in order to go anywhere—let alone Bailey. And then I’d likely volunteer for another tour and then another, for I no longer had a reason to quit. And the Marines were never shy about sending willing bodies to one warzone or another. Plus—there were many places other than combat zones that needed good Marines at them. Maybe I’d eventually end up stationed at an embassy in Mozambique or something.
Determined to call back my preference letter for Bailey and just go wherever the Marines were inclined to send me—whenever they wanted to send me there—I finished going through Bill’s things. At the bottom of his footlocker, I found something I hadn’t known about: a letter with my name on it. Of course, I wasn’t really surprised to see it. After all, there was a similar parting note for Bill at that bottom of my own footlocker, which reminded me that I needed to take that out. It wouldn’t do anyone any good anymore. I found myself wondering who I could designate to be the person to go through my footlocker—if the next sniper took me out. Maybe I’d just toss out the dirty mags so that it didn’t matter if Pam got the whole thing. Or I could ask Rasul; we weren’t exactly friends, but I trusted him with my life. And he’d likely enjoy the magazines.
I sighed and repacked Bill’s locker as neatly as humanly possible (and the Marines taught a lot about neatness) before calling in a Corporal to make sure that the locker got sent to Sookie. Only after it was taken away did I read the letter.
I opened it gingerly, treating it like the precious artifact that it was to me.
If you’re reading this, then I’m dead, which sucks. And—unless I was turned by a vampire—I’m really gone for good.
Fuck! I hate even thinking that.
If I know you, you’ve already done the things I’ve asked you to do. I know that asking you to call Lorena wasn’t fair, but I appreciate that you were willing to do it, nonetheless. I really did plan to break things off with her after this tour. I just thought she deserved for me to do it in person. I also know that you disapproved of my little dalliance with her. I hated myself for it. I guess I’m just weak; I needed convenient companionship at times. I never thought I would be the kind of man to break my marriage vows; I just hope that I would have been the kind of man who would have kept them once I was home for good.
Despite my shortcomings, I love Sookie more than anything, and I’m worried about what will happen to her now. I’m leaving her to be a single mother, and I worry she won’t pursue the dreams she had for herself apart from me. And—of course—there’s Jase. He won’t have a dad now. I’d not intended to have children until after my active duty was over, but I wouldn’t trade Jase for anything. Still—I hate that I’ve left him.
And there’s you. I worry about you, too. I still don’t really know how and why we connected since we aren’t a lot alike. But I wouldn’t have gotten through these last years without you. And I mean that literally.
I closed my eyes for a moment as I thought back to the three times that I’d managed to save Bill’s life. I’d give my own life if I would have saved him a fourth. I continued reading.
You’re my brother, Eric—the one I always wanted. You’re as much family to me as my own parents. And—that being said—I need you to do me a favor that goes above and beyond.
I need you to watch over Jase—to look out for him and to help him with anything he needs. I need you to make sure he has a man that he can trust and turn to in his life. Don’t get me wrong, my own dad is great, but you know William; he’s not exactly the father of the year.
Plus, I want the kind of man in Jase’s life who would help him to overcome his fears about marriage and all it entails, rather than the kind that pays for him to get some tail. As much as I don’t want to make excuses for myself, I know that cheating on Sookie with Selah before my wedding helped me to develop more relaxed morals after my wedding. And my dad encouraged—even insisted upon—the Selah thing! Not to mention that my dad hasn’t exactly been faithful to my mom—though, thankfully, he’s been discreet about his own dalliances. Anyway, for a lot of reasons, you’re the male role model I want for Jase.
In my letter to Sookie, I’ve let her know that I’m asking you to do this. You don’t have to do much. I do hope you’ll still base yourself in Shreveport so that you can hang out with Jase every once in a while. But it’ll also be fine if you just drop him the occasional letter, or exchange the occasional phone call with him. Selfishly, I want him to know the me that was a Marine, and Sookie can’t tell him about that as well as you can. And I know you’ll leave out the parts that make me look bad, too.
And—if you do settle down in Shreveport—check on Sookie every now and then—will you? I bet she’ll continue to stay with Gran, and then—when Gran passes—I figure she’ll stay on in her family’s farmhouse. It’s old and is always in need of some work. I’m leaving her and Jase with enough money to comfortably live on—enough so that Sookie never has to worry or even work. But—if I know Sookie—she’ll be frugal with it and put most of it into savings, probably eventually giving all but what she can’t spare to Jase once he grows up. Just make sure she’s not trying to do too much on her own when she could easily hire people to help her.
Please do these things for me, Eric. Look after my family. And—in so doing—I hope you remember that you’re already Jase’s honorary uncle, at least in his and Sookie’s eyes. Heck—you know Jase already calls you Uncle Eric, and he loves when you would stick your head in when we were Skyping.
In the end, other than Sookie, Jase and my mother, you’re the person I love the most in this world. And, for that reason, I wish you the happiest life possible.
Always your brother,
I re-read the letter and then folded it carefully before checking my watch. Seeing that I still had a bit of time before I had to depart, I went over to the wobbly table in the room, which I’d shared with Bill and a few other Sergeants and Lieutenants, and grabbed some paper and a pen.
There, I wrote a letter to Sookie—my first. In it, I told her that I’d gotten Bill’s request, and I asked her permission to write letters to Jase once or twice a month and to call him once a week when I could. I said that I’d leave it up to her. Indeed, I shared that I would completely understand if she preferred to cut ties with the military, given her loss. After all, the last thing Jase needed was to lose someone else in his life. Simply put, I couldn’t guarantee that I wouldn’t die.
And, of course, she didn’t know me that well. She didn’t know that—once I made a commitment to someone—I didn’t waiver. She might believe that I wouldn’t keep my commitment to Jase—that I’d eventually hurt him simply by disappearing one day, even if I did survive the battles I would face as a Marine.
I also told Sookie that any letters I sent to Jase would be placed in an envelope sent to her so that she could read them if she wished. In fact, she’d have to read them to Jase at first since he was not yet able to read more than simple books.
Next, I wrote a letter to Jase, keeping in mind that he was only five years old.
This is your dad’s friend, Eric. We’ve talked a few times on Skype with your dad.
I wanted to write you a letter to see how you are doing. I’m getting ready to move to a new home base where I’ll get to be a Lieutenant like your Daddy was.
He told me how much you like dinosaurs. I like them a lot too. Your daddy told me that you have some dinosaur toys that you enjoy having fights with. That sounds like a lot of fun.
Your Daddy also told me that you are going to preschool. How is that going? What kinds of things do you do there?
I miss your Daddy a lot because he was my best friend. Do you have one of those yet? If you do, you are really lucky. Your Daddy asked me to make sure that you are doing okay. He also wanted me to tell you that you can ask me any questions you have about your Daddy or anything else.
Your Daddy loved you very much, Jase. And I know he’s very proud of you.
I hope that you will write me back whenever you can.
I looked at the letter and shrugged, not really knowing if it was the kind of thing a 5-year-old would like getting. However, it was the best I could do. I sealed both letters into an envelope, but decided not to send them until the next week—so that Sookie would get Bill’s things before my letters arrived. Still, I felt better having written the letters. After all, it was hard to know if I’d find the time during the next week. And there was never any question that I’d do what Bill requested of me—as long as Sookie agreed.
And, selfishly, I was glad for the task—for the connection with Jase that Bill was giving to me. It seemed like my friend was looking out for me, even from the grave.
Baghdad, Iraq • January 16, 2005 (about a month later)
I was a little surprised when I received the first personal letter that I’d gotten from anyone since I was deployed. Pam had no interest in letter writing, preferring to speak by phone once a week—as we had done since she moved to England.
The letter was from Sookie. I strode purposefully to my quarters, which were—thankfully—private now that I was stationed in Baghdad. My field commission had been made official, so the salutes I received on my way through the hotel that was serving as our headquarters were much crisper than they’d been the month prior. Unlike some C.O.s, Colonel de Castro was a stickler about saluting indoors; truth be told, receiving them was likely something I’d never get used to.
Of course, I returned the salutes, even as I held in my own nerves. I’d been wondering whether Sookie would accept my contacting Jase. I’d already written and sent him another letter—just in case—so that I wouldn’t break the previous promise I’d made about writing once or twice a month. I figured that the worst that could happen was that Sookie threw the letters away. I also figured she’d eventually tell me if my efforts were unappreciated. My second letter to him had been along the lines of the first. However, it also included a story about his dad’s first trip deep sea fishing. I happened to have a picture of Bill and me—with the yellowfin tunas we’d caught—so I’d arranged for a printed copy for Jase and sent that in the letter.
Once I was in my room, I quickly opened the large envelope, which held two smaller ones—one from Jase and one from Sookie. I opened the letter from Sookie first, knowing that it would tell me whether continuing to write was okay.
It feels a little funny writing you a letter when we haven’t really met. It feels like I know you though. I was going to write even before I received your letters to me and to Jase. I wanted you to know that I appreciate the fact that you called me to tell me what had happened when Bill died. I know you left out some details, but what you said helped me. So thank you.
Also, I recall you saying that you were sorry that you couldn’t save Bill that horrible day in Fallujah. Please know that I don’t blame you in any way. Bill was your Lieutenant then, so it would have been him giving any orders that put your Platoon in harm’s way. Of course, I’m not blaming him either. I can’t imagine how horrible it is to be in a place where you could die any second—where it’s your job to put yourself in harm’s way. I’m sure you would have sacrificed yourself for Bill, but that’s not what fate had in mind, so please don’t carry any unwarranted guilt.
That being said, I did struggle with whether or not to accept your gracious offer to write to Jase. First off, I appreciate your writing to ask my permission. Bill assumed I’d say yes, but he didn’t consider the fact that I need to worry about Jase’s mental health. He already lost one soldier in his life. If I let him get too attached to another, it will hurt him if you die. I hate to put that so bluntly, but it’s the truth.
I stopped reading for a moment, realizing for the first time just how much the possibility of being an uncle-figure to Jase had been helping me through my own grief about Bill. I closed my eyes and breathed deeply. It was something I’d learned to do in order to prepare myself for disappointment. I chastised myself for putting so much hope in a relationship with a small child—breaking my own pledge not to allow myself to get attached to anyone after Bill’s death. But then I also reminded myself that I’d done it for Bill. I steadied myself with a few more deep breaths before I read on.
To be honest, Eric, I spent a long time contemplating what to do about you. Eventually, I weighed the pros and the cons of having you in Jase’s life, and I decided that—as long as Jase wants it—the pros do outweigh the cons. Still, I appreciate that you will write your letters addressed to me, and I reserve the right to change my mind if the letters upset Jase. If they do, I’ll write again, and maybe we can try again when he’s older.
In the meantime, he really liked your first letter. He cannot write by himself yet—at least not very legibly. So he asked that I pass along some answers to your questions.
He said that it’s “so cool” that you like dinosaurs. He wanted me to assure you that his dinosaurs have “big, ferocious, battles” and that his T-Rex always wins and then “eats the Brontosaurus burgers.”
He also wanted me to tell you that he likes “some of preschool.” He is a fan of drawing and coloring, and he likes reading. But he hates counting because it is “boring.”
On a personal note, he hadn’t told me those details yet, but I found them funny because Bill always hated numbers and math too—while I always liked them. I see more of Bill in him every day, and I’m grateful for that—that Bill will go on in our son.
Oh—and Jase also wanted you to know that he does have a best friend. Actually, he has two, one “cat and one human.” (His wording, not mine—LOL.)
FYI: The human’s name is Jessica, and she’s a cute redhead who seems to have a crush on Jase. The other is one of the kittens we recently got, a boy cat Jase named “Sarge.” He does not like our girl cat, “Pepper”—nor does he know why I named her that.
Well—that’s all Jase had to report this time. But—like I said—he did enjoy your letter very much. He also colored you a picture (enclosed). He loves green, so get ready for a lot of it.
Keep yourself safe, Lieutenant.
I found myself smiling as I opened the second envelope to find a page from a coloring book. The picture on the side that had been colored was of a T-Rex. Jase had, indeed, colored it green. And at the bottom in the writing of a five-year-old were the words, “To Eric.”
I quickly found some tape and put the drawing up next to the three pictures on my wall. One was Pam’s current school year photo. The second was a copy of the same fishing picture I’d sent to Jase. And the third was the picture I’d kept of Jase and Sookie.
I stared at the coloring and the pictures for a while, letting myself enjoy them. It was nice to have those things on my wall, things that made me feel like a person beyond the soldier.
But—of course—the soldier had work to do, so I got to it.
A/N: I swear, whenever I work on this story, I always get a little teary-eyed. It’s this Eric. He tugs at my heart. Anyway, thanks to those of you who are commenting on this story. I appreciate the feedback, especially since I know that ALL-HUMAN stories aren’t a lot of people’s cup of tea in the TB/SVM world. Anyway, keep those comments coming if you have the time and the inclination. Hopefully, I will be back with this week’s second chapter on Friday or Saturday.