NOTE: This chapter is set one month after the previous.
October 30, 2010 • 0800 hours/ 8:00 a.m.
I was in love with her—with Sookie.
However, I allowed myself to think that thought—to feel that emotion—only when I was not in her home. Specifically, I permitted the weakness only during my morning runs—but only after I’d run far enough to no longer see the dwelling where I’d felt more at peace than at any other time during my life.
As wrong as it was to feel my love for her, as much as I knew that nothing could ever come of it, as devastated as I knew I would be when I was no longer really a part of her life—I could not help myself.
A part of me hated having feelings. They always led to pain, to rejection, to loss.
But—again—I couldn’t help myself.
Still, I’d thought that I’d “handled” my more romantics notions; I’d thought that I’d successfully stifled that initial overwhelming attraction I’d had for Sookie. I’d talked myself out of the belief that we could ever share a connection. I’d determined that it was best if I kept Sookie at arm’s length.
It had been the first time I’d carried her up the stairs of her home and to her bedroom that I knew I had failed at stifling anything; I was lost to her. For a very long time, I’d doubted if I was even capable of feeling romantic love.
But feel it I did—for her.
Every morning, I carried her from the second floor to the first. Every evening, I would carry her up again.
And—every time—my feelings threatened to explode from my very chest. But I didn’t let them. I kept myself neutral. I waited for my run.
Yes—when I carried her in my arms, I tried to ignore how her proximity engulfed all of my senses. Her scent—like a lavender field in the sun. Her warmth—like what I imagined being wrapped up in a warm quilt in front of a fireplace would be like. Her heartbeat—reminding me that she was almost lost from the world before I’d even been in the same room with her. Her gaze—always meeting mine for a moment as she thanked me and apologized for my trouble all at once. Her touch—as her arms twined around my neck. My touch—as my arms kept her safe and secure as I walked her up and down the stairs.
I both liked and disliked Jesús Velásquez, the nurse/physical therapist who was helping Sookie to transition from her walker to her cane. She was ahead of schedule with that transition and could already make it up the stairs—as long as her wheelchair was waiting for her to sit in immediately and someone walked behind her. She could not yet walk down the stairs, and—at night—when she was worn out, she still needed me to carry her up.
She still needed me.
But I knew that my days of being needed by Sookie Herveaux were numbered to even fewer than I’d once hoped for.
“It’s better that way,” I huffed to myself as I sped up my pace. Of course, I knew that running myself far and fast would do nothing to resolve my emotions, nor would it make them go away. But I ran anyway, always putting myself through the torture of both love and loss during every run.
I always embraced all of the reasons that I loved Sookie during the first half of my run.
They went through my head like a military cadence.
First and foremost, I could not imagine a better mother. I knew that Sookie found it almost impossible not to baby Jason—not to over-help him as he struggled with his first attempts to stand up using his crutches. Yet she found a way to support him without hovering or smothering him.
And she wasn’t easy on him when it came to chores and schoolwork either! At first, Jason was under the false perception that he wouldn’t have to do things like clean his room or make his own bed. That changed his second day home when Sookie told him to find a way.
As he’d grumbled about being in a wheelchair and still having to do chores, she’d cried softly in the living room. In a whisper, she’d asked me if I thought that she was being too hard on him. Having never been a parent before, I could tell her only that it seemed like a good idea for Jason to learn to have the same amount of independence he’d had before. She’d smiled at me beautifully and then blushed as I’d handed her a handkerchief so that she could wipe away her tears.
Thirty minutes later, Jason had managed to make his bed; it wouldn’t pass a military inspection, but it was good enough to show that he’d made a good-faith effort in completing the task.
Another reason why I’d fallen in love with Sookie was her strength in the face of a situation that would emotionally cripple many people. She was just over thirty years old, and she’d lost two husbands. She’d lost her grandmother, whom I’d learned had been Sookie’s touchstone in life. She’d lost her father-in-law as well. Yet she maintained her positive attitude and was more focused on helping Jason deal with his grief than she was dealing with her own.
She was also driven and courageous—sometimes stubbornly so. She was determined to help Calvin Norris implement some of the growth plans she’d helped to dream up with Alcide. Moreover, she’d managed to hire and train two new part-time servers and one new bartender at Merlotte’s.
And I’d seen her bussing tables in her wheelchair!
I figured that some of her drive came from the need to keep busy so that she wouldn’t have to dwell on her grief; in truth, I thought her strategy was a sound one. It was what I’d done when Pam had moved to London and then what I’d done again when Bill was killed.
Oh—I knew that she was still dealing with her grief. But she was incredibly strong, not letting that grief paralyze her.
She still laughed, and she helped Jason laugh. She still planned and dreamed, and she encouraged her son’s dreams as well.
She accepted visits from friends and acquaintances with graciousness. She insisted that I drive her over to Tara’s so that she could help with her newborn, when the infant became colicky.
And she was incredibly kind and gracious with me. She gave me the immeasurable gift of a home and made sure that I knew that I was “part of the family”—that I really was “Uncle Eric” and that I’d always have as much of a role in Jason’s life as he and I decided I should have. She apologized—I thought unnecessarily—for asking me to limit my time with Jason when she’d married Alcide. I’d assured her that I’d understood her decision. But she’d still apologized again for ever believing that my relationship with Jason should be deprioritized—that I should feel deprioritized.
Yet she did so much more for me than simply apologize. She gave me an idea of what I might do if I ever stopped being a Marine. I now knew that I could run a place—a bar—and I contemplated what it might be like to open one in Shreveport—near the base—if I ever quit the Corps.
She gave me smiles, too. In turn, I found myself smiling more when I was around her. I felt lighter—better. I could feel myself relaxing around her, talking about my sister and some of the people I’d met in the Marines.
She wanted to know me. And—in turn—I wanted to be known by her.
I felt myself becoming something I’d never been before—happy.
Of course, I knew that Jason was a part of that happiness—a big part. I loved him too—as I imagined a father might love a son. Indeed, I wanted to be something like a father to Jason—in whatever ways he needed, even if that was never the word that he thought of when he interacted with me.
“Uncle” was enough.
And Sookie allowed that in a way that I now knew would be permanent. And—for the first time in my life—I knew what it felt like to enjoy a relationship that was “safe.”
Even Pam had commented that I looked more content when we’d Skyped the week before. She figured it was because I was no longer in combat. But I knew better.
I was happy because I had Jason and Sookie in my life. But, of course, I knew that only one of those people would actually stay that way in the same way.
My bubble would burst in two months’ time.
But I’d determined that having that bubble at all—for any length of time—was enough. I’d already realized that resisting the urge to be in orbit around Sookie was impossible. So I let myself enjoy it—like a spectator. And—during my runs—I let myself enjoy it like a man in love with a woman.
And I felt joy.
At least until I turned around to make the return run to the old farmhouse.
It was on the run back that I repacked my feelings of love for Sookie.
I could allow myself to enjoy being with her and Jason. I could savor the happy moments that now came to me multiple times a day. I could collect them. I could write them down. And I would always remember them.
But—after my runs—I would not let myself dwell on my love for her. Despite her brave front, I knew that she was grieving, and I would not burden her with my feelings or take advantage of her vulnerability.
I always made a point to run back via Bill’s family’s estate. Remembering him always helped me to keep my priorities where they needed to be. He’d tasked me with looking out for Jason and his mother. And that is what I would always do.
And that would be enough for me—because it was what they needed of me.
And because I was a good soldier.
November 30, 2010 (one month later) • 9:00 a.m./0900 hours
“Damn,” I huffed under my breath as I found that I had to sit down before I fell down. I’d replaced my wheelchair with a walker that had a seat that I would utilize if I became unsteady. I was also using my cane more, but I still relied on my walker/seat when I was going to be standing in one place, such as at the kitchen counter, for more than a minute or so.
Unlike Jase, I’d never used crutches—as Dr. Lee thought that the walker and the cane were better fits for the kind of bone break that I’d had. Seeing Jase mastering his crutches quickly (despite having only one leg), as soon as his left femur healed adequately, made me a bit jealous sometimes—though Dr. Lee made it clear that my leg was healing just fine. And apparently on its own timeline.
Also apparent was that trying to chop up the butternut squash I needed for a crockpot meal was asking too much of my still unsteady leg.
I was almost thankful I was sitting down, however, when Eric came in through the back door from his morning run. I knew that he ran about five miles a day, and his perfect body reflected every damned foot he had traveled.
I chastised myself for my attraction to Captain Eric Northman. As usual, I felt my guilt spike as he toweled off; of course, he had no idea that I was objectifying him in my mind. And, of course, he had no idea that he had become the star of a fantasy life that was reemerging as if coming out of hibernation.
But it was too soon! At least, I told myself that again and again.
And—to make matters even more confusing—I was still grieving for Alcide, crying and aching for him almost every night, even as my body couldn’t help but to be attracted to Eric every day.
So—yes—I was confused and swimming in guilt as I looked away from the captain and compelled myself to stand and return to my task.
One thing I knew for certain was that—no matter how attractive sweaty Captain Northman was—I would never act on that attraction. To do so wouldn’t be fair to anyone involved! For myself, I didn’t want to succumb to a rebound relationship that would lead only to my increased guilt and shame. Plus, I knew that Eric couldn’t replace Alcide—that trying to replace my deceased husband would only leave me emptier inside.
Moreover, I’d sworn off men because—simply put—I wasn’t prepared to grieve for another husband. I’d lost enough already.
I sighed as I chopped through the tough gourd.
Maybe one day I’d try a casual relationship, but I didn’t think I could ever let myself fall in love again. There was a saying that a lot of people used with me after Bill’s death—a cliché really: “‘Tis better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all.” I’d looked up that saying and found it was actually from a poem called “In Memoriam” by Alfred, Lord Tennyson. It was a very long poem, but I read it again and again, looking for consolation within its stanzas and lines.
As time passed after Bill died, I’d had fewer and fewer sad days, and eventually, I’d decided to take a leap of love again—when I’d fallen for Alcide. It was funny how no one had said that famous Tennyson line to me since my second husband died. It was as if they knew I wouldn’t be in a state of mind to believe them.
Or even to receive those words—without falling apart, that is.
In fact, I’m not sure I ever would believe that line again. Loving someone and losing them hurt so badly. Too badly.
And—yes—using Captain Northman might give me momentary pleasure. However, I knew that a casual relationship with someone like him wouldn’t be possible.
Plus, I’d grown to like him too much to screw up our friendship—though, oddly, neither of us had ever brought ourselves to use our first names, at least not out loud.
Moreover, I didn’t want to hurt him. If he came to care for me romantically, he’d only be harmed when I inevitably broke things off. I knew that rebound relationships begun too closely to a tragedy were more likely to fail than not.
Most importantly, I didn’t want any fleeting and doomed relationship that he and I might have to negatively affect the long-lasting and true relationship that he and Jase had.
I smiled a little to myself as I thought of Eric and Jase’s love for each other.
I didn’t want to say the word “dad” out loud, but that was exactly what the captain was to Jase now.
Of course, I did worry that Jase might begin to feel like he was betraying Alcide or Bill because he clearly loved Eric more than either of them. So far, he’d not had such a dilemma. And I wanted to keep it that way, which meant that complicating things with Eric by acting on my attraction was not a wise idea.
But I couldn’t help enjoying Eric from afar—appreciating his undeniable beauty. I even let myself luxuriate in his comforting, strong arms when he was carrying me up and down the stairs. But I only let myself do that for as long as it took for him to put me down.
I also enjoyed simply spending time with Eric—as friends. He was, as it turned out, extremely intelligent and well-read. It seemed that being a Marine offered him ample time to sink into books, and I learned that his genres of preference were nonfiction and biographies. Because of those preferences, he was quite knowledgeable about many subjects and people he’d taken an interest in over the years. And Jase often used him as a fount of historical data when he was doing his homework.
Eric, it seemed, was also excellent at picking up languages. Indeed, part of Jase’s studies involved learning Spanish. Eric was learning right along with Jase. I smiled to myself as I recalled them powering through a lesson with the Rosetta Stone just the night before. They also practiced beyond their lessons. Eric had even thought to have Jesús speak only Spanish during Jase’s physical therapy exercises so that Jase could get the benefit of practice with a native speaker of the language.
Maybe it was his time being in the Marines—having to lead men and women—that made the captain so resourceful. But I also felt that it was something just about him too. I imagined that he could live a thousand lifetimes and never tire of learning new things, and that meant that he was the kind of man who could admit to not knowing everything.
And that kind wasn’t so common.
Yes—Captain Northman seemed to have unlimited attributes, qualities that ran so deep that it was hard to recognize them at first. But—little by little, he opened himself up. I’d noticed that he was smiling more—that his posture had relaxed around not just Jase but me.
It seemed an honor that he would feel comfortable enough to show more of himself in my presence.
But that didn’t mean I could allow myself to think anything more of him beyond a friend. So I wouldn’t.
A/N: So sorry for being a day behind with this one—again. I just have so much on my plate that it’s hard to find the time to give the chapter a last edit before posting. Anyway—this chapter shows two more leaps forward for the story’s timeline. I wanted to offer little flashbulb moments of Eric and Sookie from their life living under the same roof. The first time jump is one month after Sookie and Jase are home; Eric has acknowledged his feelings for Sookie, but only in a way that he thinks will enable him to remain in control. He honestly doesn’t think he’s a worthy candidate for Sookie, and he has a lot of honor, so he won’t risk taking advantage of her vulnerability and grief. In the next leap (another month), I wanted to show Sookie’s POV. Many of you were worried that she’d push Eric away completely—not even allowing a friendship to build—but she hasn’t. She and Eric have become good friends in the two months, and it’s clear that he’s opened up a lot as a person. I tried to imagine myself in Sookie’s shoes: dealing with so much loss, but being attracted (on a physical level) to this hot guy that’s living with her. I mean—her ovaries must burst daily as she sees him with Jase—being a “dad” to him when he needs it most. But then the overwhelming guilt takes over. Plus, she truly loved/loves Alcide. Losing Bill devastated her. Losing Alcide devastates her previous hope that she could find lasting happiness after such a profound loss. I hope that I have adequately shown how scared she is to see Eric as anything other than a friend, and I think that her concerns are reasonable ones, especially because she doesn’t want to risk hurting Jase by any of her actions. This chapter was meant to paint this almost impossible position that I imagined Eric and Sookie in. I hope you enjoyed it.
Please comment if you have the time and inclination. To everyone who has expressed care for my heath, thank you! My headache is a bit better this morning, though I had a pretty bad one last night. I made the error of going to see a movie—Endgame—not that the movie was bad. Actually, I quite enjoyed it (though the tragedy of Captain America no longer having a beard cannot be overstated). The error was in going when I still had a bit of a headache. Between the loud sounds and vibration of them in the theater, I left with a bigger headache, but I slept for about 11 hours and woke up better.
Anyway, I hope you have a wonderful weekend!