NOTE: This chapter is set three months after the previous.
Tuesday, September 28, 2010 • 1210 hours/12:10 p.m.
“Captain! How goes it?” Corporal Reynolds yelled out from his open driver’s side window, even as he parked his truck at the front of Sookie’s farmhouse—a place she and Jason continued to call “Gran’s house.”
“Lafayette, when we’re not on the base, it’s just Eric,” I said to him—probably for the twentieth time.
“Sure, Sir,” he smiled.
I sighed. I knew he’d be back to Captain sooner rather than later. And I’d yet to hear “Eric” from him; the closest I’d gotten was “Sir.”
With Dr. Claudine Crane, I’d had a long discussion about names. I’d called my father, “Sir.” And—when I was fifteen and he heard me refer to him as “my father” to Pam’s nanny—he’d told me to call him Appius when speaking of him to others. I’d never called him “Dad” or even “Father” in his presence. I’d called my mother, “Ma’am,” when I’d addressed her and “Mother” when I talked about her. In turn, she had addressed me as “Eric,” though it was rare that she had occasion to speak with me, and I could not remember her saying my name with any warmth attached to it. Nanny Octavia had also called me “Eric”—even affectionately at times, though she’d not stayed in my life for long.
My father’s pronouncement of my name had always been accompanied by a stern tone, or my name was yelled in anger. Mostly, I recalled him calling me “boy.”
I called my sister—”Pam.” I was still the only one who called Jason by his full first name and not his nickname. I’d learned that—before the accident—he’d never gotten around to making his request for the name change with his family. He’d asked that I keep calling him “Jason,” however. So I had; others continued to call him “Jase.”
Calling Sookie by her first name had become easy in my mind, but it still seemed impossible for me to say her first name aloud. I found myself saying “Ma’am” to her most of the time. She’d called me “Eric” only once during our months together—when she’d awoken from a nightmare and was still groggy. Other than that, she still called me “Captain.” So did Amelia and Tara, as well as everyone else who had visited Jason and Sookie in the hospital. The nurses, doctors, and custodial staff at the hospital also addressed me as Captain.
Ultimately, I wondered if I put off a kind of aura that made it impossible for anyone to want to know me well enough to address me by my first name. I wondered if I projected a coldness to others. Or—maybe like my father had told me many times—I was “worthless.”
Even Bill had called me “Northman.”
But Pam addressed me as Eric. And Jason called me Uncle Eric. And hearing my name from them—my name spoken with affection—always had an affect on me. It gave me hope.
Hope that at least two human beings wanted to know me on a human level.
To facilitate adults warming to me, I was trying to practice using first names so that others might feel able to do the same. It was something Dr. Crane—Claudine—had been practicing with me. Corporal Reynolds was good to practice with as well.
“Thank you for agreeing to help, Lafayette,” I said, moving to begin unloading the wood.
“When are Sook and Jase comin’ home?” he asked. “This week—right?”
“Day after tomorrow,” I responded.
He nodded and then moved to help me with the longer planks. That done, we walked over to the porch, even as another truck came down the driveway.
“Hey, Captain! Lafayette!” Calvin Norris greeted.
Mr. Norris—Cal—was the man Sookie and Janice Herveaux had decided to sell Herveaux and Son Construction Company to. Cal, who’d been the same age as Alcide Herveaux, had been the chief foreman under Jackson Herveaux for about a decade and had been Alcide’s best friend. While Alcide had gone to college for his business degree, Cal had begun working with Jackson right after high school.
Cal hadn’t had the money to buy the company outright, but Sookie and Janice decided that they would take a nominal fee upfront and then a percentage of profits each year until the agreed upon price for the company was reached.
Janice—at Sookie’s insistence—received seventy-five percent of the money associated with the sale. Sookie agreed to 25%, but only because Janice had been upset when Sookie didn’t want to take anything.
Cal grabbed a large toolbox and some sketches from his truck and approached Lafayette and me. After making sure the Corporal had gotten all the materials needed, Cal went over the sketches with us. Building a ramp to accommodate Sookie’s and Jason’s wheelchairs was the goal for the day, and we all jumped into the task, working quickly and efficiently.
Lafayette, as it turned out, had done some work for Herveaux and Son in the past; indeed, Cal had promised him a job as soon as he got out of the Marines—if he ever did. I’d not had any formal training in carpentry; however, I’d picked up quite a bit in the Corps. It seemed that something always needed to be fixed in the buildings, shacks, and tents I’d called my homes.
When we took a break for lunch, I texted Jason. He was due to have physical therapy with Dr. Lee that afternoon, and I hated not being there for it. But I also knew that I couldn’t always be there. Thanks to Colonel Edgington and Colonel Flood, my leave from the Corps had been extended to a six-month period, so I still had three months until I returned to a full-time duty schedule, but Jason would be doing physical therapy for much longer than that.
My leave after month two had been unpaid, but that was okay. I’d been able to retain my residence on the base at no cost other than a scanty utilities bill. And I had my savings.
Jason and Sookie had been moved to the general medicine floor of the hospital about a month prior, and my nights of staying with them had ended then. Still, I spent most of my days with them, doing what I could for them.
Without being too intrusive.
It was a fine line sometimes.
“How’s the therapy goin’?” Cal asked, his eyes showing some sadness. He, like everyone else in Sookie’s circle, had felt his own grief after the accident. He’d not known Adele Stackhouse well, but Jackson Herveaux had been like a second father to him, and Alcide had been like a brother. Indeed, Cal had been the best man at Alcide and Sookie’s wedding.
“Mrs. Herveaux is now able to go short distances with just her walker,” I informed. “That was the benchmark for her returning home,” I added.
“You still gonna be stayin’ here, Captain?” Lafayette asked.
I nodded. “I’ve got three months left on my leave. Hopefully, Mrs. Herveaux will be more mobile by then. At that point, we’ll reassess,” I said, my stomach dropping a little. I didn’t like to think about that “reassessment” time at all, though I knew it was inevitable. I knew that it would mean a lot less of what I’d become used to: time with Sookie and Jason.
“How’s Jase?” Cal asked.
“Still having a hard time,” I sighed. “His left leg isn’t altogether healed, so he’s not been able to do much with the prosthetic on his right yet. And he’s impatient. He’s just learned to get from his bed to his wheelchair by himself, but it’s still a struggle for him. He’s able to get himself from his wheelchair to the toilet or the special shower seat pretty easily. And his upper body strength has developed well.”
I got a text and chuckled a bit as I read it.
“And, as he’s reminding me in his latest text, he hates the whole hospital schooling thing Sookie is doing with him. Apparently, his regular schooling wasn’t that challenging for him, though he earned straight A’s. Now that Sookie has found out that he’s about two grade levels above the standard, she’s pushing him.” I chuckled even louder as I got another text. “He’s worried because she’s started talking about continuing homeschooling even after he’s able to walk.”
“I’m sure you’ll make the peace between them,” Lafayette remarked.
He was right. I had become good at building bridges between mother and son. Being in the hospital had been taxing on them, especially given that they were in the same room.
Moreover, they’d both had to come to terms with not being mobile. They’d both had to grieve for Gran and Alcide and Jackson Herveaux. And they’d both had to live with each other 24 hours a day, seven days a week for a long chunk of time.
Actually, after their first week in the same room in the ICU, the doctors had offered to separate them, but—despite their squabbling—they’d decided to stay together, though the partition between the rooms stayed closed for several hours a day. When they were moved to the regular floor, they kept up that practice of several hours of separation a day.
In truth, though the two of them weren’t keen to spend all their time together, I knew that they were both afraid to lose contact as well. They’d lost so much.
The three of us had established a comfortable routine together. While they were in ICU, I stayed with them overnight, sleeping on a cot on the other side of Jason’s bed. I’d leave for a few hours in the morning. I’d drive to my home on the base, go for a run, take a shower, and then complete any errands I had. I’d then return to the hospital by 1400 hours (2:00 p.m.), which was when Jason’s physical therapy appointments always started.
Once Sookie was able to get herself into her wheelchair on her own, she and Jase were moved to the regular ward. It was then that Sookie asked that I no longer spend the night; she was anxious to reestablish a bit of independence—something that I could not blame her for.
Still, I would spend a good deal of the day with them—with Sookie’s “okay” of the schedule, of course. I would arrive at 0900—right when visiting hours began in the regular ward. I’d bring a breakfast for myself, which—inevitably—either Sookie or Jason would trade me for. The hospital’s food was surprisingly good, according to both patients. But that didn’t mean they wouldn’t want to swap with me.
I got used to it. I wasn’t lying when I reiterated to them again and again that the hospital breakfast was my preference anyway; they just didn’t know that I preferred that because of my desire for them to eat whatever they favored. Indeed, I would have simply bought them both breakfast each morning if they would have let me. Meanwhile, I really had little partiality at all when it came to chow, now that I was back in the United States. Everything tasted pretty damned good to me.
After breakfast—at 1030 hours—Sookie would leave for her physical therapy; from there, she went straight to her therapy sessions with Claudine during the weekdays.
During the stretch of time when she was out of the room, Jason and I would “hang out.” I taught him how to play some card games, so we would do that or play one of the other board games people had brought him. Other times, we’d work on his “homework” together. Or he’d ask me to tell him a story about his father. On occasion, he’d want to talk about his life now that he was an amputee. I hadn’t known it, but—before the accident—he’d already begun thinking about becoming a Marine after he graduated from high school. That wouldn’t happen now. But we talked a lot about how his life wouldn’t have to be too limited. And there were jobs related to the military that he could still do.
With Sookie’s permission, I arranged for Jason to Skype with some of the men who’d been under my command who had lost limbs. Speaking with them, especially with Rasul, had been very beneficial to him. In fact, Rasul had even come to visit him at the hospital, showing Jason that it was very possible to move and to walk without people noticing he was missing part of his leg.
After “man time”—as Jason called it—Sookie would return to the room; they would have lunch, and I would go eat in the cafeteria in order to give them some alone time. After that, it was Jason’s turn for physical therapy, and I would go with him most days. Afterwards, he would meet with Claudine, but that was only three days per week. Most of the time, he’d go right back to his and Sookie’s room, where they’d begin “school” for the day. Once a week, I would leave for my own appointment with Claudine. Other times, I’d work on my correspondence or help Sookie with the accounting books for Merlotte’s or Herveaux and Son Construction Company, which she still took care of for Cal. I found that the work I’d done for Mrs. Cataliades when I was eighteen and the bookkeeping that I’d done in the Marines had sufficiently trained me to take care of many of the businesses’ small accounting tasks.
Of course, Sookie helped me to learn what I did not know, and she did much of the work when Jason was in physical therapy. However, I enjoyed helping as needed.
After their “school,” they’d nap for a while. During this time, I usually went to pick up some dinner; depending on what was on the hospital’s menu for the evening, I might be tasked with getting some for Jason and/or Sookie as well. Then, we’d share dinner and, perhaps, watch a bit of television, though sometimes Sookie and Jason would need to finish a lesson.
At 1900 hours (7:00 p.m.), I’d have to say my goodnights.
I knew that Jason would work on his homework after I left, but according to Sookie, he would drift off to sleep soon after. He still took some mild pain medication, and it made him drowsy. As for Sookie, I wasn’t a hundred percent certain what she did with her evenings, beyond reading. Every other day, she’d ask for a book from her home library—or she’d download books onto her Kindle.
She and I didn’t talk a lot, at least not on a personal level. I’d decided that—given my strong and immediate attraction to her—it was best if I kept an emotional distance from her, and she’d clearly decided to do the same. I still couldn’t stop myself from feeling many powerful things, especially when I was near her. But I understood well the inappropriateness of such notions.
Sookie was dealing with intense grief; she didn’t need some lovestruck—love inept—idiot in her life. She needed a helper.
So I helped.
After leaving the hospital each evening, I would go to Merlotte’s all but one night a week (Sundays—when the bar and grill was closed). At Merlotte’s, I would check in with Arlene Fowler and Terry Bellefleur, who were running the place in Sookie’s absence. Neither had been good with the books for the week and a half they had to do them before Sookie asked that the paperwork be brought to her in the hospital. However, despite their issues with math, ordering, and scheduling, Terry and Arlene were both competent managers of the business’s day-to-day operations. And—most importantly to Sookie—they’d kept the place running, even when her life had been in the balance.
Terry was ex-military—army. He and I had experienced similar hells in Iraq, though his had come during the first Gulf War. I could tell that he was still dealing with PTSD, and I recommended that he see someone at Bailey—or Claudine.
The last I checked, he was still thinking about it. I wasn’t about to push him.
At Merlotte’s, I’d do quick inventories, learn how to bartend from Terry, and help close the place for the night. Then I’d gather the materials for that day’s books and take a night deposit to the bank if need be.
At around midnight, I’d go to the place where I’d been staying—Sookie’s farmhouse. It had been decided that I’d stay with Sookie and Jason when they returned from the hospital, so it made sense that I should begin sleeping there, especially since it was close to Merlotte’s.
Plus, Jason and Sookie worried about me driving back to Shreveport late at night.
I certainly didn’t push that issue, given their fears about being on the road. Indeed, Sookie always wanted me to text her as soon as I arrived at Merlotte’s and again when I got to the farmhouse. I saw no harm in doing so, given what Sookie had lost in a car accident.
At Sookie’s behest, I used the third floor of the farmhouse as a little apartment of sorts. Smaller than the other floors of the house, there were three small rooms on that floor, as well as a small bathroom. I had to crouch under the showerhead, but guaranteed hot water was not something I balked at! I made one of the rooms a bedroom, purchasing a bed, a nightstand, and a dresser for the space.
The second room, I made into a kind of living area—complete with a couch, a small television that Sookie had had in storage, and a desk. I also got Sookie’s permission to arrange for internet and cable connections up in my temporary living quarters.
The third small room up there was unfinished and used for storage.
She apologized more than once for the smallness of the space, but I reminded her that I was used to much smaller. Of course, I had the home that had been arranged for me at Bailey, but it was mostly empty, waiting for the day when I’d occupy it. In the meantime, I’d swing by Bailey occasionally to pick up the meagre mail I received—a monthly bank statement, some correspondence from soldiers I’d served with, a couple of bills, and a few circulars—and to mow the lawn.
Most nights, I found myself tired enough to go to sleep almost immediately after I arrived at the farmhouse. But several times a week, I’d awaken with nightmares—or with the nagging sensation that I was supposed to be somewhere else. In truth, I’d been spoiled when Sookie and Jason had been in the ICU.
For one thing, I’d slept better when I’d been staying at the hospital, knowing that Jason and Sookie were right there; I knew that—if anything happened to either of them—I could help them immediately. If Jason woke up with a nightmare, I was there to sit next to him. I could get him water or juice. Or I could help him into his chair if he needed the bathroom.
Some nights, it wasn’t Jason who woke up with nightmares. It was Sookie. In many ways, those nights were my favorites—though I was ashamed to admit that—given the reason for them. However, on those nights, I would always go over to Sookie and wake her from her dream. She would take my hand and hold onto it, which I loved, though sometimes she would cry a bit, which I hated. Other times, she would simply remain quiet, her hand enclosed by mine, until she could fall back to sleep. Occasionally, when she knew she couldn’t go back to sleep, she would ask me to read quietly to her, which I loved doing.
And when they both slept well, so would I. Indeed, sleeping with them in the hospital was the best sleep I’d had in years, oddly enough.
But that time had ended with Sookie and Jason’s improvement. I knew that Sookie was now able to help Jason through his nightmares. As for who helped Sookie through hers? Well—she had clearly become able to do that herself.
At first, trying to sleep at all in the farmhouse had been hard for me, mostly because it was so damned quiet. I’d not lived in such a quiet place since my mother and Appius had died and Pam had left to go to England. And—of course—since Sookie and Jason were not there, I worried about them.
Despite this worry, I had eventually learned to sleep in the quiet.
At least sometimes.
At least for a few hours at a time.
During the nights when I could not sleep for very long, I prepared the house for Sookie and Jason’s inevitable return. At Sookie’s request, I’d packed up Alcide’s clothing and had taken most of it to Goodwill. She’d wanted me to keep a few things for herself, some flannel shirts that she associated with her husband and his work boots, as well as a few other things. His wedding ring had been brought to her by a policeman, and she now wore that on a chain around her neck.
She’d spoken with me during her last night in ICU—our last night all together. In the dark, she’d cried as she’d asked me to “pack up” her husband for her. Understandably, she’d felt like that was a task she should do. However, practicality had demanded that she get it done before she returned home. The dresser with Alcide’s things in it needed to be taken out of the master bedroom and stored so that there would be room for Sookie’s wheelchair to navigate around the room.
Then there was Jason’s space to see to. The farmhouse had one bedroom downstairs. In addition, the first floor had a small bathroom, a spacious living room, a small den, a kitchen with a small dining area attached, and a mud porch out back—where the washer and dryer were located. The bedroom on the ground floor had belonged to Adele Stackhouse.
According to Sookie, there had originally been four small bedrooms and two bathrooms on the second floor. She and Alcide had renovated when they’d married and decided to stay in the farmhouse. They’d turned two of the bedrooms into a larger master bedroom for them—with a larger bathroom. Jason’s room was also on that floor, along with an office, which Sookie and Alcide had shared.
And—of course—there was the attic, two-thirds of which was the apartment I occupied.
As I did with Alcide’s things, I packed up Adele Stackhouse’s clothing, most of which also went to Goodwill. Sookie gave me a list of a few things to keep. I put those items into a box to store in the attic. It was most difficult to go through Mrs. Stackhouse’s personal knickknacks. Sookie eventually asked me to take pictures of everything with my phone so that she could decide what to do with the items. Many went to charity; a few were stored in the attic. And some things were moved into Sookie’s bedroom. Ultimately, I got everything emptied from Adele’s old room, gave the walls a fresh coat of paint, polished the wooden floors, and then moved Jason’s things down there. Because he would be in his wheelchair for a relatively long time, it was decided he’d stay in the downstairs room until he was confident enough with his prosthetic leg to climb the stairs by himself.
As for Sookie, she decided to stay upstairs, though she debated making the living room her bedroom. Ultimately, however, she nixed that idea. She wanted the motivation to walk. So—putting aside her pride—she asked me if I’d be willing to carry her upstairs each night and then downstairs each morning. She planned to have a wheelchair for both floors of her home, though I told her that taking the chair up and down would be no bother. She wanted the two chairs, however, so that was the plan. One of them was already in her room. It was narrower than the standard chair, so it was an easier fit through the doorways. I’d already taken it around the upper floor, making sure she could easily navigate around in the bedroom and her office. I’d had to rearrange the furniture a bit, but Sookie had agreed to the changes before I made them. Luckily, the whole house had wooden floors, and I’d stored all the area rugs in the attic for the time being—to make for easier navigation.
In addition, I’d been busy getting the bathrooms ready for Sookie and Jason’s needs. This included special bath seats and some handrails for gripping. Though I’d needed Cal to help me to install the items into the tile, I’d managed to get the rest set up myself.
Using Sookie’s extra wheelchair as my guide, I’d made the downstairs as accessible as possible. The coffee table, I’d decided, needed to go into storage for the foreseeable future. And the dining table was too big to navigate wheelchairs around, especially since Jason needed to keep his left leg elevated when possible. With Sookie’s permission, I’d arranged to store the large dinette set in their storage shed and temporarily replace it with a smaller table and chairs. Sookie agreed to let me pay for that furniture only when I told her that I’d move it with me to my base house in Shreveport—once I took up residence there.
“So—what about you, Captain? You like huntin’ and fishin’?” Lafayette asked me, breaking me from my reverie, though I had been paying enough attention to him and Cal to know they’d been talking about the pastime for several minutes.
I sighed that I was still “Captain.” But I didn’t show my frustration with my continuing inability to get people to see me as Eric. “I’ve never had the opportunity to go hunting, and I’ve only been fishing a couple of times—with Bill when we were in San Diego. We went out in a Pacific to deep sea fish,” I responded.
“You should consider coming trout fishing with us some weekend,” Cal suggested, “that is, if you think you’d enjoy it.”
I thought for a moment. “Maybe after Mrs. Herveaux and Jason don’t need me here,” I said. “For the foreseeable, Mrs. Herveaux will need help with the stairs.”
“That’s right,” Cal said. “Well—the offer stands—anytime we go.”
“Thank you,” I said sincerely. “I’d like to try my hand at fresh-water fishing.” As for hunting, I didn’t think I’d ever want to kill anything else with a gun for as long as I drew breath.
“Well—should we get back to it?” Cal asked.
“Sure,” I said, trying to sound friendly and warm.
Neither of the men managed to call me Eric that afternoon though.
A/N: So I know that many of you will be disappointed by the long time jump, but I didn’t want to dwell on Sookie and Jase’s time in the hospital for too many chapters. Eric’s POV shows that he’s adapted to his time with them as he would to any “duty station.” It’s important to note that he’s still keeping himself a bit distant, especially from Sookie. As for the “name” theme in this piece, I just became fascinated by the thought that no adult in Eric’s life actually called him “Eric.” I think his dwelling on that thought is a key to understanding him. Of course, even as he “practices” using first names with others, he still cannot call Sookie by her first name. This is a theme I’ll return to again before the end.
As for the time jump, I saw this story as a series of time jumps in a way—where “pauses” would be made now and then as key moments occurred. I hope you are enjoying this plotting strategy I’m experimenting with.
Please comment if you have the time and inclination.