NOTE: This chapter is set approximately SIX MONTHS after the previous.
NOTE 2: In military-speak, “back on the block” means “behaving like a civilian” or, more generally, just “civilian life.”
Sunday, July 3, 2011 • 1900 hours/ 7:00 p.m.
“You still coming over tomorrow? And spending the night?” Jason asked me excitedly.
“Yes,” I assured the twelve-year-old before we said our goodnights and hung up our Skype call.
I sighed and leaned back on my couch after closing the lid of my laptop. I’d not spent the night with Sookie and Jason since I’d officially moved out on January 1, more than five months before.
Since then, my life had fallen into yet another routine.
I was good at those.
It wasn’t a routine that made me as happy as the one I’d been privileged to maintain for the six months I’d spent my life with Jason and his mother—as they’d begun the healing from their accident.
However, I really couldn’t complain about my now.
Indeed, my current routine was so much better than the one I’d had before I’d come to Louisiana. If I had to compare it to any other time, it would be the period when Pam was three years old. A nanny named Jane had taken care of Pam during that period of time, and she’d allowed me to spend quite a bit of time with my sister.
My parents tended to restrict Pam and my time together. Appius decided that I would be a bad influence on my sister if I interacted with her too much; plus—as he liked to remind me—I had other priorities and goals to meet. My mother simply went along with Appius because it was easier to do so.
Nanny Jane thought my parents were idiots. Sometimes, especially when my parents were out of town, Nanny Jane would allow me to play with Pam for hours. Those had been treasured times for me—as I came to understand what it might be like to be a part of a family. Plus, my little sister was an interesting human being, even as I child, and I liked talking with her and learning about her—even if I had to play dolls with her.
Unfortunately, Nanny Jane was replaced by Nanny Hilde, who followed every mandate of my father to the letter. And those mandates included keeping me at arm’s length from my sister. Of course, anything Pam wanted, Pam got. So—when she asked for me specifically—I was allowed to spend snippets of time with her.
Sadly, Pam was not always the most thoughtful of human beings, so she didn’t ask for my company often.
Jason was her opposite when it came to thoughtfulness. And spending time with him had given me a greater purpose than I’d ever thought I would have—at least on a personal level. I knew that I would do anything for him, and I found myself incredibly grateful that I got to share his world in ways that I’d not gotten to with my own sister.
I finally had memories worth storing: a Thanksgiving meal with people who cared for me, a Christmas with gifts thoughtfully chosen and given, Jason’s birthday party the previous April.
And there were more than just big events. Jason’s first step with his prosthetic leg. The first time he left his home without his crutches. Throwing a baseball with him (after, helpfully, Lafayette had taught me how to throw one).
All these memories were mine now, and—better yet—they were all an aspect of my routine. There were always large events to look forward to—like the Fourth of July gathering the next day or Sookie’s birthday party, which had been just a few days before. (She and Tara had celebrated their birthdays together since they were only three weeks apart in age.) Sookie’s circle of friends—at least most of them—had begun to take for granted that I belonged at such events.
“I belong,” I whispered aloud, feeling the slight smile on my lips and a lightness in my body.
Of course, there were “smaller” routine elements, too—like Jason telling me about something Jessica had done or going on and on about Iron Man, who’d become—not surprisingly—an icon for him.
And—even beyond my time with Jason—my routine was good. I found my role at Bailey Base fulfilling. Colonel Flood was a good C.O., and he encouraged innovation and independent thought (though he, of course, made all final decisions about his base). The Corps had taken notice of the new training program that the Colonel and I had developed for preparing soldiers for the kinds of cave exploration they were called upon to do in Afghanistan. Already, in military circles, it was being reported that the troops who trained at Bailey were so much better prepared compared to others; in fact, some soldiers were being sent from Afghanistan back to the States just to pick up the training. Indeed, Colonel Russell Edgington cycled through several of his Platoons a month! The Marines got a bit of R & R in the States, and they returned to Afghanistan better prepared for the shit they would face; Colonel Edgington called it a “win-win” and had proclaimed himself a “genius” for assigning me to work with Colonel Flood. Moreover, groups of Seals and Army Special Forces had started to cycle through the training as well.
The success of the program and the recognition we’d already received was a compliment; however, most of the time, I was simply implementing Colonel Flood’s ideas—with just a few additions based upon my own experience. Corporal Reynolds—now Sergeant Reynolds, actually—had become my right-hand man, and he was invaluable in the training program as well, seeing to all the logistics involved in the training program.
It was nice to be a part of a strong team—one that wasn’t being shot at with live ammo rounds.
However, it took me a while to get used to a job that was basically forty hours a week—and a consistent 40 at that. I needed to go into work only four days a week—the three that I led training exercises and conducted classroom lessons and then one during which I would have meetings with my C.O.; with Sergeant Reynolds; and/or with any captains, lieutenants, and sergeants who needed additional training beyond what the other soldiers going through our program received.
When stationed in Iraq or Afghanistan, it seemed like there had always been something to do; indeed, it often felt like I worked all of my waking hours. Now, I had a lot of downtime. I’d considered getting a dog to keep me company during my long nights, but I’d held off, given the fact that I would have to travel on occasion, and I didn’t want to burden another with the dog’s care.
During my free nights, I generally read or watched sports. Lafayette also suggested various television shows to me. I liked some of them. And between them and the sporting events, I had topics to converse with others about.
My Fridays and Saturdays were my favorite days—as I got to spend them with Jason. On Saturday mornings, he’d been teaching me the nuances of fishing. Indeed, almost every week, we’d go fishing with some combination of Lafayette, Calvin Norris, J.B. DuRone, Remy Savoy, Hunter, and Tray Dawson. Colonel Flood had even joined us a couple of times.
Jason loved to be on the base, and he had made friends with a few boys around his age, whose parents lived in the small housing unit where I had my small home. At first, most people assumed that Jason was my child—that Sookie and I were divorced parents. However, after hearing Jason call me “Uncle Eric” a couple of times, that misperception was corrected.
Neither Jason nor I had felt the need to explain that we weren’t blood kin.
Jason was doing incredibly well with his prosthetic limb, too. Sergeant Rasul Godwin and a couple of other amputees that I knew had flown in to Bailey to meet Jason and to help him with some of the mental hurdles he still faced. Talking with them always seemed to help Jason, as they understood what he was going through and could—quite literally—show him what he was moving toward. In fact, Rasul was going to be running in a marathon the next year! And his example always heartened Jason.
Indeed, meeting with Jason had given Rasul a new purpose. Though he was still working as a translator at the Pentagon part-time, he had decided to go back to school so that he could become a counselor for amputees.
Speaking of school, I’d started taking some classes on Tuesday and Thursday nights—to help fill in my free time—at the Shreveport annex of Louisiana State University. During the Spring Semester, I’d managed to get into a couple of general education classes on campus and one online class that didn’t interfere with my work schedule. It was interesting to compare being a student at thirty-one to my only year in public high school. To be honest, most of my assignments seemed quite easy to me, and I remembered a lot of things from the private tutors who had been so demanding of me—at Appius’s request. Still, I’d never minded my lessons. And I found my current classes interesting, even if there was a lot of review involved for me.
I’d also made some decisions regarding my future in the military. I knew one thing for sure: I did not want to be in the middle of combat zones anymore—not if I could help it. It was quite rare that someone served as many active-duty tours as I had anyway—at least not back-to-back—so it wasn’t as if I was shirking my duty. Plus, both Colonel Flood and Colonel Edgington were prepared to help me stay in positions where I could train others. They thought I was doing a lot of good where I was at.
Indeed, remaining at Bailey made a lot of sense for me. I would be close to Jason—and to Sookie. I could continue working in a program that I truly believed saved lives. And I could continue to cultivate the friendships I’d made.
Another possibility was that I could retire from the military altogether.
However, at the moment, I was leaning toward staying in. If I did so for at least another nine years, I could retire with twenty years of service and quite a few benefits. The only drawback to keeping my current duty position was that I would have to go out-of-country once or twice a year in order to learn new information about whatever battlefield Marines were being required to “conquer” or to “protect.” After all, training techniques needed to evolve just as much as battle zones did. Moreover, technology always seemed to be changing, and I was good at figuring out how to use it to best effect. But—to do that—I would need to visit the field at times. In addition to my out-of-country time, Colonel Flood also expected me to travel in-country for various events and meetings. The previous month, I’d had to go to Washington, DC, to meet with some Pentagon officials about the new training programs at Bailey. The three-day-long trip had been full of briefings, but I’d made time to visit Bill’s grave. Jason had asked me to take Bill a letter from him. I’d placed it and some flowers onto the piece of earth under which I knew lay a casket that held my friend.
I’d found that I couldn’t speak with him, however. In truth, I’d felt guilty even standing next to his grave, given the way that I felt about his widow.
I shook myself from that thought as I recalled my full Skype conversation with Jason earlier. He was concerned that something might happen to me during my first trip out-of-country, which was due to begin in early August.
I’d assured him that I wouldn’t be leading men into battle, nor would I be in a particularly “hot” zone. I’d be in the field only as a consultant. And I’d be gone for only three to four weeks.
Sookie had met the news of my first consulting trip abroad with a frown and then a nod. She’d had no words for me on the topic—beyond assuring me that I could spend extra time with Jason leading up to the trip if I wanted to. I appreciated that and knew I’d need it as much as Jason.
Sookie and my interactions had been consistent, of course, since I picked up and brought home Jason on a specific schedule each week. She’d also been to the base twice—once to see the room Jason and I had put together for his overnight stays with me and once to attend a barbeque for the on-base families so that she could meet Jason’s new friends and Colonel Flood. Other than that, I’d seen her only on Friday mornings when I would pick Jason up and Saturday nights when I would drop him off.
Our Friday morning interactions were usually simple small talk as Jason gathered his belongings for the weekend. Our Saturday interactions were longer—since I generally stayed for dinner, opting not to do so only a couple of times—when Sookie had seemed less than enthusiastic about my staying.
As always, I took my cues from her.
It wasn’t as if Sookie was cold toward me; on the contrary, during Saturday dinners, she was always quite talkative and asked me about the goings-on in my own life as well. Those dinners reminded me of my time at the farmhouse.
Jason was doing really well with home schooling, and he and his mother had even decided to do it again for at least another year since he was now enjoying being so challenged by his studies. His main issue with homeschooling had been not having the chance to hang out with his friends; however, Sookie had solved that dilemma by making sure he had plenty of chances to spend time with his Bon Temps friends on Sundays and also during the week—especially now that school wasn’t in session. Moreover, Jason had his new friends on the base, too.
Sookie had honored me by asking for my opinion about Jason’s schooling; I’d agreed with her evaluation and actions wholeheartedly. To me, Jason seemed happy. And he was adjusting well to his new body, as well as the angst that I imagined was a part of most preteen boys’ experience. Sookie had honored me again by asking me to give Jason the “sex talk” since she’d overheard Jason and Jessica talking about the topic. Oh—their discussion had been innocent; however, Sookie didn’t want to take any chances with her twelve-year-old son. And—in her defense—a thirteen-year-old girl had recently gotten pregnant in Bon Temps by a boy only three years older than Jason.
I could admit that “the talk” was a bit awkward, but Sookie had looked monumentally comforted when I’d agreed to fulfill the role that Bill had once set for me: to help his son in any way needed.
During the “sex talk,” Jason had laughed at me for telling him mostly about things he’d heard about already. However, he promised to talk with me before he had sex for the first time—whenever that happened—so that we could make sure he had protection. It seemed clear that he wouldn’t be interested in having sex for a while, but Sookie was right that Jason should be comfortable with the subject and have a “safe” sounding board for his inevitable questions. It made me feel good that I was that sounding board.
Of course, what Jason was truly interested in was not sex; it was when he should kiss Jessica. The little girl had suggested that they do it on her thirteenth birthday, which was coming up in November, and had already laid down quite a few rules about it—including “absolutely no tongue” and a two-second time limit. Oh—and she’d ordered Jason to practice on his pillow.
I’d had to hide my chuckling when Jason had told me about her rules. Apparently, he had already been holding Jessica’s hand when they hung out in his room and at church. And he called her his “girlfriend” to his friends on Bailey Base.
As a matter of fact, I liked Jessica. To her credit, she’d not been put off at all by Jason’s amputation, and watching them interact when I was still living at the farmhouse had been entertaining to say the least.
Beyond our few talks about Jason, however, Sookie and I didn’t speak much about personal information.
After our kiss—but before I’d moved out on January 1—I’d stuck to my promise to be around less. And—when I was at the farmhouse—I stayed more in my room or did chores outdoors unless I was hanging out with Jason. During those three weeks, I chopped a lot of firewood and fixed little things around the property. I’d also made a point to drive to Shreveport a few days a week.
Plus, during that period, I tried out the base psychiatrist, and—though I didn’t like him as much as Claudine—I appreciated the fact that he better understood what I’d been through when deployed since he’d served three tours himself. Now, I saw them both in rotating weeks. My visits with Claudine came out of pocket—since I was also seeing the base shrink—but I didn’t mind paying.
I still longed for Sookie; I figured I always would. I speculated that was what happened when one person really loved another. Distance had certainly not quelled my feelings; indeed, my love for her was now stronger in some ways than it had been when I lived in the farmhouse, for I appreciated more and more—every time I was with her—the wonderful woman that she was.
I missed her—seeing her—every single minute of every single day.
Sookie’s own recovery was now pretty much complete—at least on a physical level. Jason had told me that she was still working with Jesus on some physical therapy, but—to see her walk—one wouldn’t guess at all the trauma her body had gone through.
She still did the accounting for Herveaux and Son, which had been renamed Norris Contractors—with Sookie and Janice Herveaux’s blessing. Merlotte’s was her true “baby,” however. The bar & grill was busier than ever. And, of course, she also did Jason’s homeschooling four days a week. And she kept her house and yard spotless. Yes—I found her to be astounding!
Acknowledging that she and I were never going to happen, I’d tried dating someone a couple of months earlier. It had been nice in some ways. I’d asked out Dr. Karen Newton, who’d been Dr. Niall Brigant’s intern. Karen was now a resident at Shreveport General and didn’t have much time for a social life. That suited us both for a while. Trying to approximate the “norm,” I took her to a couple of restaurants and movies. And we did become intimate after our third date. Sex with her was nice, though kissing her had just reminded me that no one would likely ever compare to Sookie in the kissing department. Still, my body had been glad for sex.
After date number 4, Karen and I decided that physical release was all either one of us was really looking for. She didn’t have the time for a “real” relationship, and I was more in love with Sookie than ever. Deciding upon practicality over going through the motions of “dating,” Karen and I had become a “booty call” for one another. She knew that my Fridays and Saturdays were always booked. Other than that, we would hook up for sex every other week or so. I let her instigate our hookups, however, since her schedule was both more packed and erratic than mine—given the fact that she spent a good deal of time on call at the hospital. Indeed, I’d had to finish myself off a couple of times because she’d been called in during sex. For that reason, I always made sure I quickly got her off orally before we moved on to intercourse.
The sex had little warmth, and I found myself waking up often in the middle of the night, listening for crying—listening for Sookie—all the way from Shreveport to Bon Temps.
But she wasn’t there.
A/N: Okay—well that was another long time-leap. But—as many of you have rightly noticed—both Eric and Sookie needed time. This is especially true for Sookie, who we will catch up with in the next chapter. You likely noticed that this chapter is set approximately one year after the accident. At this point, a lot of the physical healing will be done for Sookie and Jase. However, you’ll have to stay tuned to see what the mental fall-out will be like. For Eric, I imagined the time from January (when he moved out of the farmhouse) to July being all about the establishment of a routine. I thought about not putting him into a sexual/dating relationship, but then I realized I didn’t want to leave him “stuck.” He thinks that he’s got no chance with Sookie and has accepted that—though he’s in no way denying his own feelings for her (at least, to himself). A bootie call buddy seemed the kind of thing that this Eric would have in his life. But is he right? Is Sookie really out of his reach? From here on out—since a lot of time has passed—things may begin to happen more quickly for Eric and Sookie. Stay tuned!
Please leave a comment about the chapter if you have the time and inclination.