July 5, 2011 • 6:00 a.m. / 0600 hours
I woke up with a sigh—already feeling a smile.
It took me a moment to realize where I was and why I’d woken up so happy.
“Eric,” I whispered, as I focused on the man next to me.
His breathing was steady and quiet, and I chuckled to myself that—though he was lying on his back with me lying on his chest and with no pillow under his head—he was not snoring.
Bill had snored softly—with the main noise coming at his exhalation, which was more like a puff of blown air than a breath. Alcide had been like a freight train if he lay on his back. Indeed, if he didn’t lie on his side, it was impossible for me to get any sleep next to him. Luckily, he didn’t mind my waking him up if he accidentally turned over in his sleep. Even on his side, however, he’d snored, but I could—thankfully—sleep through it.
It seemed like—even in sleep—Eric was a contrast to the other men I’d shared a bed with.
I sighed to myself. When I was young and idealistic, I couldn’t imagine ever being intimate with more than one man during my entire lifetime! I’d viewed myself as “Bill’s woman.” I thought we’d grow old together—ending up in matching rocking chairs. But—now—thirteen years (at least, as of July 11) after my wedding to Bill, I could be honest enough with myself to know that Bill and the “me” that I now found myself to be were not actually that compatible.
Of course, I had known that he wanted to be a politician, and I thought I was fine with being a politician’s wife. And I would have been—for Bill. However, I knew myself enough—now—to know that I wouldn’t have been as happy hosting a fund-raising dinner as I was balancing the books at Merlotte’s at the end of a long shift or planting a vegetable garden in the spring.
I frowned. I’d once admired Sophie-Anne and William Compton’s marriage. Indeed, I set them up as a kind of model for Bill and me to follow. But, after Sophie-Anne’s stroke, William hadn’t lived up to that ideal. Oh—he’d done everything “right”—staying by her bedside for what he deemed an “appropriate” amount of time each day until she could come home from the hospital. He’d made sure she had the best live-in nurse money could buy. And she was almost fully recovered now—at least, as much as she ever would be. Most of her feeling on her left side had returned, though she still needed a cane to walk, and her smile was slightly crooked. But—even after her recovery from her stroke—the two had opted to keep the separate rooms they’d taken when she’d first returned from the hospital. And he certainly had never demonstrated a desire to take a step back from his career for her. In fact, if anything, he spent more hours in D.C. than ever before. It was as if—because Sophie-Anne had needed to slow down—she was no longer as much of an asset to his career.
I couldn’t help but to wonder if Bill had viewed me in the same way—as an asset, someone to help him establish and maintain a particular image. After all, at least outwardly, it seemed as if a cookie cutter for a politician’s wife had pressed into me perfectly. I was the “girl next door” that Bill had loved all of his life. A phrase like “childhood sweethearts” would have been perfect in a stump speech. I’d grown up with a grandmother who believed in instilling me with “old Southern manners,” so I knew well how to perform the duties of a hostess. Bill and I had made what Sophie-Anne had once called the “perfect picture.” William had once jokingly said that I was a perfect “accessory” for Bill. Looking back, I wondered if he had really been joking; I also wondered if Bill thought of me as an accessory, something even less flattering than an “asset.”
A big part of me speculated that he would have eventually seen me in that way. In truth, a part of him already had. He was ambitious, serving in the Marines—at least in part—to increase his worth and electability once he had practiced law for a few years and finally ran for office. And he would have won, too—because of his family and his way of charming people. And I would have been the dutiful wife, looking nice and proper, but always standing off in the background a bit. I would have raised our children, hosted fundraisers, and helped run charities. And I would have been happy doing all of it—at least, that’s what I hope. However, I would have needed to give up a part of myself for Bill’s life.
Don’t get me wrong, I still loved Bill very much, but thirty-one-year-old Sookie sometimes wondered why I’d thought that Bill and I were perfect together.
The love I had for Alcide was different—a more grown-up kind of love. I hadn’t settled for him as much as I’d settled in with him. Yes—he and I sometimes butted heads over my more independent inclinations. But he understood what kind of woman I was when we became engaged, and—before we’d set a wedding date—I’d made sure that we thoroughly hashed out the fact that I would be keeping my own interests and my independence.
Of course, at times, Alcide had tried to go a bit caveman on me. But he had been man enough to recognize that and to try to change it—for me. Moreover, his more cavemannish inclinations had become less prominent after about a year of marriage. Some might say I wore him down a bit. But I just believed that he was a good man, who wanted to be “the man” in our marriage in a way that was just a bit too patriarchal for my liking. He would have likely been better off with a woman who’d not been married before—one who hadn’t been a single mother running her own household for so long. With him, I’d never imagined sitting in matching rocking chairs and enjoying old age—mostly because Alcide had never been one to sit still. But I had thought that he would be the last man I made love to in my life. And I had been fine with that—more than fine.
But now I’d taken a third man into my bed—and into my heart. And, in many ways—no, in most ways—Eric’s residence in my beating organ felt the most “right.”
In a way I’d never be able to explain fully, Eric seemed to “get” me—to know me. And he loved me. I couldn’t imagine his wishing that I was anything other than myself—unlike Bill and even Alcide, who I knew wished—at least, in part—that I could personify their perfect vision of “wife.”
But I wasn’t perfect.
More importantly, I was no longer naïve enough to think that I could be “perfect” for someone else if I wasn’t—first and foremost—true to myself. Years and strife had taught me that hard lesson.
I already knew that Eric appreciated my independence; in fact, he’d spent months encouraging it as I’d learned to walk on my own again. I somehow knew he’d never try to hold me back. If anything, I knew that he would willingly reshape his life to fit mine, though I would never let him reshape himself.
Though I knew he wouldn’t believe it, I felt as if he was perfect as he was.
Perfect for me.
I closed my eyes and smiled. I could imagine us in matching rocking chairs as we grew older. But—unlike my teenaged imaginings of Bill and me—I saw Eric and me holding hands as we rocked, our chairs close to each other and indicating a kind of intimacy that I knew was rare.
“You’re rare,” I whispered to the sleeping man next to me.
I could have stayed resting with him for hours; however, the clock on the nightstand told me that I needed to get up and rouse my son if he was to have breakfast in time for it to settle before the expert swimming instructor/therapist the Comptons had hired arrived. I smiled as I thought about how excited my son was to learn to swim again. He was also excited to have Eric sharing in the activity. And I knew that Eric was spending the day partly so that he could learn how to safely instruct Jase.
The love he had for Jase made my heart swell even more for the man in front of me.
God—I loved him! I’d tried to push away that feeling for months. But it was there. Maybe it wouldn’t be easy for people like Janice to adapt to Eric and me being together. But I knew that I could not live my life for others.
Unless it was for Jase and Eric.
That felt “right.”
So as not to disturb him, I got out of bed. I cringed a bit at the fact that Eric hadn’t taken off the condom before he fell asleep, and I made a mental note to see my GYN and get back on the pill. I blushed as my eyes roved up his body—his truly amazing body. No one had ever given me the kind of pleasure he had the night before. I blushed even more as I looked at the unused condom on the bedside table.
A big part of me wanted to jump back into the bed with him and put it to good use.
Later—I promised myself.
In fact, after Jase had his swimming lesson, Hadley was planning to pick him up to spend a couple of days with Hunter—as the two boys had begged for more time together. Hadley and I were both aware that she and I had not been as close since the accident. I also knew that a part of her blamed herself for putting Hunter into Alcide’s and my care that horrible day. But she was getting over that, which was good for the boys.
And—with Jase out of the house—I would have Eric all to myself for as long as he could stay.
I made a mental note to go to the store and get both something nice for dinner and more condoms while Jase and Eric were over at the Comptons’ pool.
I smiled as Eric seemed to be reaching for me in his sleep and bent down to cover him more fully and to kiss his forehead. Immediately, he stilled again, and a small smile tugged on his handsome face, though he didn’t wake up.
I’d never seen him looking more beautiful—or more at peace.
And I marveled at the fact that I had something to do with that look. I wanted to give him thousands of them before I was done.
I woke up and immediately reached out—for her. My eyes popped open when I realized that Sookie wasn’t there. Had I dreamed her coming to my room?
I shook my head. No. I was naked and a bit of a mess.
I glanced at the clock and knew that I needed to get up. Jason’s swimming instructor would be meeting us at the Compton estate at 0930, and it was already 0750. The Marines had taught me how to take a quick shower, and that’s what I did. Just as quickly, I brushed my teeth, put on my swim trunks and a T-shirt, stripped the bed so that I could wash my sheets, and slipped my flip flops onto my feet.
I felt unsure of myself as I slowly went down the stairs.
Did Sookie regret what had happened? Should I worry that she’d left my bed? When had she left?
I shook my head, remembering us falling asleep together after making love. Or—maybe she hadn’t fallen asleep. Maybe she’d made her exit as soon as she could.
I heard voices—Sookie’s and Jason’s.
“Get yourself together, Captain,” I whispered, trying to offer myself a pep-talk that all was well. After all, hadn’t Sookie told me that she loved me? Hadn’t we made love?
Or maybe she’d mistaken love for pity.
I entered the dining room tentatively.
“Mornin’, Uncle Eric!” Jason enthused. “You ready for swimmin’?”
“Sure, Jason,” I said in greeting, smiling at the boy—even as I tried to see Sookie in my peripheral vision.
“Do you want some breakfast?” she asked me. “I’ll get you some,” she answered for me immediately.
I looked at her in time to see her blush and turn toward the counter—away from me.
“Have a seat!” she said over her shoulder.
I did as she instructed, though—during the time I had lived in the house—I would have joined her in the kitchen to pour my own coffee and help as needed.
I tried to follow along with Jason as he talked through his excitement about the upcoming lesson as well as the previous night’s fireworks. I responded to him as necessary and kept one eye on Sookie, though her own eyes were lowered as she came to the table, carrying a plate filled with eggs, bacon, and toast—as well as a cup of coffee. She put it down without a glance into my eyes and then turned away.
“You want more orange juice?” she asked Jason.
“Sure!” the child answered before remembering to add a “please.”
Sookie returned to the table with a pitcher of juice and an empty glass. After filling Jason’s cup, she finally looked at me. “Do you want some juice—um—Captain?”
“Yes. Thank you,” I paused, “Ma’am.”
For a moment, she frowned, but then glanced at Jason.
“You’re welcome,” she said.
“Momma, ain’t you gonna eat?” Jason asked, munching on some bacon.
“No. I had something a little earlier.”
I hadn’t budged to eat yet. In fact, I felt like an idiot sitting at Sookie’s table with the wadded-up set of sheets from my bed sitting on my lap.
In truth, I’d forgotten I’d had them when I’d sat down. Now, the fact that I still did made for an awkward moment.
Sookie noticed them. “Oh—do you want me to start those in the wash for you?” she asked.
“No thanks, Ma’am,” I said standing quickly. “I’ll do it really quick and then have breakfast.”
I was halfway to the laundry room on the mud-porch when I heard Sookie behind me. “Oh—let me show you the new detergent I got. You use a different amount of it than the old kind.”
After entering the mud porch, I quickly lifted the lid of the washing machine to put in the sheets.
“Eric?” Sookie whispered from next to me.
I looked at her and saw her looking up at me with pensiveness in her eyes. But there was also something else in them—love.
“Sookie,” I whispered, reaching out to push the strand of hair that had fallen from her ponytail behind her ear.
In the next moment, our bodies were leaning toward each other—hers upward and mine downward. And then we were kissing passionately. I sighed with a mixture of passion, joy, and relief. Maybe Sookie didn’t regret what had happened between us, after all. She certainly didn’t seem to.
“I’m sorry,” she whispered, after breaking our kiss. “I just don’t know how or when to tell Jase about us.”
I nodded, too overcome to speak, as she lifted up to kiss me again.
We were both out of breath by the time we heard Jason from the table. “Uncle Eric? Can I have one of your bacons?”
With difficulty, I pulled away from the kiss. “Sure, Jason!” I responded, loud enough for him to hear. I cupped Sookie’s face and noticed the small smile on her slightly swollen lips.
“No regrets?” I couldn’t help but to ask her in a whisper.
She shook her head. “No, Eric. None.”
I closed my eyes for just a moment, reveling in the sound of my name on her lips.
“We’ll tell him soon,” she whispered. “We can talk after the swimming lesson; he’s going to Hunter’s house. You don’t have to get right back to the base—do you?”
I shook my head. “No. I can be here. I want to be here.”
A/N: Hello all! First of all, many apologies for my absence for the past week. I had a work trip and then piles of work waiting for me when I got home. It’s been hard to find a minute for anything other than work and house cleaning. I’m sure many of you have been there. Anyway, finally I have a new chapter for you. I’m hoping that—to help to make up a bit for my absence—I can post the next chapter tomorrow. Fingers crossed.
Meanwhile, did you like this one? I felt that it would be very much in Eric’s characters to be worried the morning after, especially when Sookie wasn’t there when he woke up. But I also wanted to create a bit of dramatic irony because you—as readers—know that Sookie is having no doubts about being with Eric. For her, I imagined a kind of switch being turned on—as soon as she couldn’t push aside her feelings for Eric anymore. Of course, now they will need to tell Jase.
Please comment if you have the time and inclination. I’ve said it before, but it’s worth repeating, that your comments help to bolster me—during good days and bad.