NOTE: This chapter begins about thirty minutes after the last.
Shreveport, Louisiana • June 25, 2010 • 0710 hours/7:10 a.m.
Eric POV, continued
I was second guessing my choice of books. Jane Eyre was damned depressing from the onset; it depicted a little orphaned girl, bullied by all those around her—unwanted. In truth, the story hit me pretty damned close to home, but I kept reading nonetheless, hoping things would get better for little Jane.
I was interrupted by a concerned-looking Nurse Halleigh.
“Captain, there’s some news from Jase’s surgery,” she said.
I stood up, putting the book onto the seat as I did so; I’d learned that it was best if I took bad news when I was on my feet.
“What’s wrong?” I asked. I knew from the nurse’s face that things weren’t going well.
“Jase’s little body’s been through so much trauma that his little heart stopped on the table.”
My heart stopped, too.
“They have it going again,” she continued quickly, and he’s stabilized—for now. They were in the middle of the surgery on his femur when it happened, and they’ve decided to continue it. They think it’ll be okay to go on with the surgery, but it’s gonna take a while longer than they thought it would.”
I nodded and—feeling a little light-headed—breathed again.
“Dr. Brigant called in the other Dr. Brigant to stay for the rest of the surgery, and—between you and me—Dr. Niall Brigant’s got a bit of a magical touch when it comes to the heart.”
I nodded again.
Nurse Halleigh approached me and laid her hand on my arm for a moment. “I’ll be sure to keep you up to speed, Captain.”
I nodded yet again, not being able to express any words—not even the ‘thank you’ I wanted to say. The nurse quickly checked Sookie’s vitals and then left the room.
I felt warmth sliding down my right cheek and knew it was a tear. The last I’d shed had been when Bill died. I turned to look at Sookie. Again, seeing her tore at my heart in many complicated ways and also tore a few more tears from me. I reached down and took her hand—the hand of a stranger, the hand of one of the three most important people in my world.
“He won’t die!” I promised her vehemently, even as I softly squeezed her hand; despite the glove I wore, I could feel her warmth. Of course, her hand lay motionless in mine, yet having the physical connection to her—even through the thin piece of latex—mattered to me in a profound way.
When was the last time I’d held a woman’s hand? Had I ever?
I’d wanted to hold Pam’s hand when I’d walked with her into the airport to catch the plane that would take her to England for the first time. However, she’d been holding her new father’s hand.
I’d wanted to hold it when we’d scattered our parents’ ashes in the garden, but I’d been holding the urns.
I couldn’t remember ever holding my mother’s hand. Perhaps, I’d held it when I was too young to remember—when she needed to wrangle me to go with her some place. But I couldn’t remember ever going anywhere with my mother when I was a child. Or maybe I’d held one of the nannies’ hands. I didn’t know. I couldn’t remember.
I’d never held the hands of any of the women with whom I’d had sex. Even with Thalia, my longest relationship up to that moment, hand-holding wasn’t something we did. She was the kind of woman that was upfront about liking sex—and liking it regularly with someone who could keep up his part of a conversation. And that was the kind of relationship we had: uncomplicated companionship and physical pleasure—without feelings beyond generally liking each other.
Certainly without little intimacies like hand-holding.
And—even if I’d held a woman’s hand that I couldn’t remember—I’d never felt anything like I felt in that moment. Like a spark was working its way through me.
All from a simple—almost touch.
Of course, these thoughts and revelations were secondary to me in that moment. Jason was my primary focus—my current mission’s main objective.
“Even if I have to give Jason every ounce of the blood in my body, he won’t die,” I promised again, though I knew it was a promise I didn’t have the power to keep. So I prayed to God that he would help me to keep it.
Sookie simply lay there, having no idea what was happening around her—at least, I hoped she didn’t. I squeezed her hand gently and closed my eyes, feeling another tear grazing a fresh path along my cheek.
And I continued to pray, knowing that somehow—someway—praying with Sookie’s hand in mine was making my prayers more powerful.
Knowing that—feeling it—I kept praying.
“Captain?” I voiced as I came into Sookie’s hospital room. Amelia had broken down crying when Nurse Halleigh told us that Jase might be in trouble. She’d gone to the bathroom to pull herself together.
Truth be known, I would likely need some time in one of the bathroom stalls in the ICU before the day was over; such an “errand” was becoming an almost daily habit. But currently, it seemed that it was “my turn” to be strong.
His back turned to the door, Captain Northman placed Sookie’s hand down onto the bed slowly—gently—and then took a moment to slide his gloved hands over his face. I wasn’t about to comment on the tears he was likely wiping away.
“I’ll be a moment, Ma’am,” he said as he turned and walked out of the room, perhaps heading to Jason’s room—where there was an ensuite bathroom—so that he could collect himself.
I went over and picked up Sookie’s hand. “I’m here for the day, hon,” I greeted. “So is Ames, but you know how she is about havin’ to go to the bathroom 20 times a day. How she can be worse than pregnant me is one of life’s great mysteries,” I chuckled, though I didn’t hear any mirth in my voice. “Anyway, Nurse Halleigh just told us that Jase had a bit of a scare during his operation, but he’s holding his own now. And you know how brave and strong that little boy of yours is,” I added quickly. “He’ll be okay.”
I went over to sit in the chair beside the bed, ready to get off of my swollen feet—even if it was only because of an uncomfortable chair. There was a book on the seat. I used the book sleeve to mark the spot in Jane Eyre, which Captain Northman must have been reading, before putting it onto the little table next to the bed.
A few minutes later, the captain walked back in.
“I apologize for not greeting you properly, Ma’am,” he said with a little bow of the head.
I waved off his apology with a wave of my hand. “Don’t worry about it. I think we’re all a little raw right now. Did you sleep okay?”
“Yes. I was able to use the extra bed in Jason’s room.”
“You call him Jason and not Jase. Why’s that?” I asked, having been curious about it since the day before.
Eric looked a bit confused for a moment.
“I mean—the nurses and doctors called him Jason at first because it’s on his records, though they call him Jase now—even Dr. Ludwig most of the time. And—uh—I know you’re important to Jase.” I shook my head. “I was just curious is all. And I’m rambling to keep my mind off of things,” I added, for some reason wanting to explain myself to the somewhat imposing man.
“The last time we talked via Skype,” Eric shared after a moment, “he told me he was thinking about going by Jason. He ran the idea past me and wondered if I thought it would upset his mother if he did.”
“Why would it?” I asked curiously.
“He thought it might make her sad to think of her brother if he went by his full name,” the captain conveyed. “He was thinking it through, Ma’am; he asked me to call him ‘Jason’—as a kind of test.”
“Oh.” I shook my head a little and chuckled. “You know, Sookie told me more than once that Jase’s thoughtfulness came from you.”
“I don’t see how that could be, Ma’am,” he said humbly. “I’m sure it’s his mother that has taught him thoughtfulness. He often tells me stories about her kind acts.”
I smiled up at him even as I put a hand over my kicking child.
“Don’t get me wrong. Sookie’s real thoughtful. But Jase is a different kind of thoughtful. He tends to be kind and compassionate—like his mom—puttin’ others above himself. But he’s also really thoughtful as he goes about it—meaning that he seems to think things through quite thoroughly before he does something. That’s the part Sookie says comes from his talks with you.”
He looked down at Sookie, his eyes softening. “It’s an honor she thinks I’ve been a good influence,” he conveyed, still looking at Sookie. The look he was giving her screamed that he was a man who was in love with the woman he was looking at.
But how could that be?
Still, looking at him—the mixture of care and passion so clearly in his eyes, despite his air of formality—I couldn’t help but to wonder if I was right.
Did Captain Northman love Sookie?
“Had you really not met Sookie and Jase in person until now?” I asked after making sure a nurse wasn’t lingering around the door. After all, we’d told them that Eric was Bill’s actual brother.
He shook his head. “Bill used to invite me to Louisiana when we had leave, but he was a newlywed and then a new father. I figured his attention during leave should be 100% on his family since we didn’t get a whole lot of leave between our training periods and deployments, Ma’am.”
“See?” I said with a little smile. “Thoughtful.”
He glanced at me and then back at Sookie, but he didn’t say anything.
“Lafayette dropped some things off for you at my house last night—knowing I’d be coming here this morning. I think it’s clothes and stuff, but—knowing Laf—he put other goodies in there too.” I chuckled. “We left the bag in the car. My pregnancy seems to be messing with my memory, and Ames is a disaster at remembering anything. You can borrow my keys if you want to go get the bag.”
“Thanks. I’ll go after Jason is safely out of surgery,” he said.
“Of course,” I smiled at him.
At that point, Amelia came in with Nurse Halleigh, who had an update.
“Everything’s still looking good,” the nurse smiled. “There have been no more problems since Jase had that one episode. They’ve almost got all the pins in his leg, and then they’ll close him up.”
“Did they already do what they’d been planning with cleaning up the amputation?” Amelia asked, her voice catching with emotion.
“Yes,” the nurse confirmed. “Dr. Lee had already finished doing his part before Jase’s cardiac issue. Indeed, he quickly scrubbed back in and helped to revive him. That’s when they called in Dr. Niall Brigant, too. Both Dr. Brigants and Dr. Lee are still in the O.R.—just in case. I think Dr. Lee just stayed so that he could make sure that he could give me detailed updates to pass on to y’all.”
“Now, that’s a doctor I could really have a crush on if I weren’t married,” I sighed.
Amelia and Nurse Halleigh chuckled; as expected, Eric remained stoic.
“Jase should be heading to recovery in half an hour,” the nurse conveyed.
“Can I see him then?” Eric asked.
“Now—how did I know you’d ask that?” Nurse Halleigh said with a warm smile. “You’ll have to change into scrubs and get completely scrubbed in in order to go into recovery, but I’ve already been given permission to take you back. And I’ve already pulled some scrubs for you if you want to come with me so that you can get ready. I don’t know if they’ll be long enough, but they’ll do.”
Eric left with the nurse after a sincere, “Thank you, Ma’am,” and a final lingering glance at Sookie.
Meanwhile, Amelia went over to Sookie and took her hand. “I don’t think I could take it if something more happened to that sweet kid.”
“Me neither,” I sighed.
“Speaking of sweet kids, how’s yours?” she asked, gesturing toward my tummy.
“Practicing soccer moves,” I chuckled. “J.B. is insisting that I take tomorrow off from all of this,” I gestured around the room. “As long as that’s okay for you—and things look good when we leave tonight,” I added tiredly.
I’d not wanted to say anything, but being at the hospital all day, every day for so many days in a row was taking a toll on my body and my business. Of course, Sookie and Jase were a priority, but I wouldn’t endanger my baby—not even for them. Unbeknownst to Amelia, Nurse Maggie, who used to work in the O.B. Department, had been checking my blood pressure regularly, concerned about the stress on my mind and body. So far, everything was still in the normal range, but my blood pressure readings were edging higher and higher by the day.
“Yeah,” Amelia said, her eyes flashing concern. “You should take it easy. Anyway, I get the feeling that Captain Northman’s gonna be here most of the time—day and night,” she added with a little grin.
“I have the same feeling,” I agreed, looking at Sookie, lying so frail in her bed.
“He wasn’t looking at her like she was broken,” I commented quietly.
“Huh?” Amelia asked, pulling a second chair—a much smaller and even more uncomfortable one—over to where mine sat.
“The captain.” I shook my head a little, trying to put to words what I saw in his eyes. “When I came in, his back was to me, and he was looking at her—holding her hand.”
“That’s not unusual for someone to do when someone’s in the hospital. And he certainly doesn’t seem like a creep or anything to me,” Amelia said, looking confused at my bringing up the topic.
“Oh—I’m not sayin’ that at all!” I laughed. “Far from it. He’d been crying. I think he’d been,” I paused, “sharing the moment with her, trying to be strong for her and get strength from her, given Jase’s problems in the O.R.”
“Well—that makes sense,” Amelia stated.
“Yeah, but when he finally turned around, I swear I saw,” I paused again and shook my head, “love in his eyes—for Sookie. And I thought I saw it again—when he was in the room just now.”
Amelia frowned. “But he’s never even met her before—at least not in person.”
“I know,” I said in a hushed voice. “And maybe I misinterpreted what I saw. I mean—I’m seein’ everything through pregnancy hormones these days.”
“Well—stranger things have happened than love at first sight—you know,” Amelia whispered, leaning toward me conspiratorially.
“Yeah—but Sookie just lost her second husband,” I emphasized.
“But has she ever found the love of her life?” Amelia asked even more quietly as if Sookie herself might be trying to overhear her. “I mean—I loved Bill. We grew up with him, and Sook and he just seemed meant to be in a lot of ways.”
“But looking back, it seems like puppy love now,” I sighed.
Amelia nodded in agreement. “And there was always something a little shady about him—like that time when we’d all drunk a bit too much at that bonfire and he tried to,” she paused, glanced at Sookie, and lowered her voice even more, “kiss me. I mean—he and I laughed about it later. And he told me he thought I was Sookie till I opened my mouth and yelled at him.”
I shook my head. “I remember. But I’m more focused on how he never seemed to put her first. I sometimes got the idea that he picked her because she fit some kind of cookie-cutter Southern Belle image that he wanted by his side when he ran for office,” I commented. “But—you know—I do think he loved her.”
“Me too. Alcide loved her too, and I don’t mean to talk ill of the dead, but even Sookie would agree that he had that possessive thing going on sometimes,” Amelia commented with a shake of her head.
“And the ability to talk her into his way of thinking about things,” I added, though I, too, felt a little ashamed for critiquing the newly departed.
Amelia nodded in agreement. “Like when he convinced her to limit Captain Northman and Jase’s interaction.”
“I thought that was Sookie’s idea,” I commented with a frown. “Wasn’t she worried that Jase was getting confused about which male role model he needed to look to first in his life?”
“Alcide planted that seed,” Amelia said knowingly. “And you know as well as I do that Sookie would have run with that idea—since she was so concerned about making sure Alcide and Jase got along. And since she had her hang-ups about interacting with the captain too much because of what happened to Bill and Jason.” She paused and took a deep breath. “Don’t get me wrong. I think Alcide was a fine man and a good husband and father, but he wanted to be the center of Sookie’s world, and—if any man even looked Sook’s way—it was like he became all growly or something.”
I nodded, remembering how Alcide and Sookie had gone through a rough patch around the time she bought Merlotte’s from Sam. Alcide had believed that Sam was romantically interested in Sookie, and—if he’d been around several years before—he might have been right. But Sam had—long before—gotten over any attraction he’d felt for Sookie. And—even if he hadn’t—she’d made it clear to him that being friends was all she was interested in, and he’d respected that.
Moreover, by the time Alcide and Sookie had become a couple, Sam was with his eventual wife Jannalynn, who attended pretty much every business meeting Sam and Sookie had before the sale.
And, of course, none of that should have mattered. Alcide should have trusted Sookie when she’d told him that Sam wasn’t interested.
“But she was happy with both Alcide and Bill—at least most of the time,” I commented. It was true, after all.
“Yeah—but I’m hoping she doesn’t close herself off to the possibility of bein’ happy again,” Amelia responded fervently. “Eventually.”
“True—but she shouldn’t rush into anything either, and she’s gonna be real vulnerable,” I offered.
“Or she might turn away from the possibility of love altogether,” Amelia said with a heavy sigh. “Hell—if I lost two husbands in less than a decade, I might too.”
“Yeah. Me too,” I agreed with a sigh of my own. I still remembered how Sookie had almost fought off her attraction for Alcide because she’d felt guilty about having feelings for anyone other than Bill. I knew that her grief for a second husband might leave her a shell of her former self—for a long time to come.
“We’ll watch out for her,” Amelia declared.
I nodded in agreement. We would.
I found myself wondering if anyone would watch out for Captain Northman. Or if he’d watch out for himself.
A/N: Well—I hope that you enjoyed this week’s second chapter. I recall that writing the first draft of this one was hard, but I hope that I got Tara’s voice pretty well. Remember, this is more book Tara, and she’s more mellow than her show counterpart.
Thanks so much for all of your support—both for the story and for me personally. It means so much to me. And your kind words lifted my spirits earlier in the week.
Until next week,