NOTE: This chapter is set approximately THREE HOURS after the previous.
Jason was just finishing up his explanation of his one-hour lesson from Jade Flower, the coach the Comptons had arranged for him—for the fourth time that I’d heard. He’d told me about it—though I’d been there for it—on our way back to the farmhouse from the Compton estate.
Then he’d told his mother about it—twice.
And now he was telling Hunter and Hadley, who had listened carefully (and enthusiastically, in Hunter’s case) as Jason had explained how he had learned to float and to swim a kind of side-stroke so that he could better keep his head above water. Of course, Jason had known how to swim before, which had certainly helped his lesson. But he was learning again—with a “new” body. Ms. Flower had spent a lot of time helping Jason with his floating—so that he could “rest” in the water whenever he got tired, which he would definitely be doing for a while, as his arms would be the main things keeping him afloat. Indeed, the hardest part for Jason had been not kicking his remaining complete leg as he’d been used to doing. Kicking just the one left him off-kilter and, therefore, underwater more than once. However, Ms. Flower assured Jason that he would eventually learn a new kind of kicking so that both his complete leg and his partial one would act in concert to both propel him through the water and help him keep afloat. Plus, new kinds of prosthetics were being developed all the time—some of them waterproof.
In the meantime, it was clear to me just how much Jason loved to be swimming again; moreover, he thrived upon learning new things. I was proud of him.
I, too, was learning a lot about helping Jason by watching Ms. Flower, a beautiful Asian woman, who had given me more than a few interested looks during the lesson. Thankfully, she kept her main focus on Jason, but—if it became an issue—I would have to pull her aside to let her know that I was in a relationship.
Or was I?
Although I loved hanging out with Jason, a big part of me was anxious for Hadley to leave with the boys. I’d hazarded a few furtive glances at Sookie when I knew no one else was looking. Sometimes she was looking back. I was grateful to see that she seemed just as anxious as I was to be alone.
“So—I’ll have him back day after tomorrow at 8:30 a.m. so that he can be here for his next swimming lesson?” Hadley asked.
“Thanks,” Sookie said with a smile. “That’s so early though. Are you sure you don’t want me to pick him up?”
Hadley waved her hand. “Nah. I have to work at 9:00 anyway, and your house is between mine and work.”
“It’s a little out of the way though,” Sookie said worriedly.
“Don’t fret, Cuz. It’ll give me and Jase some time to chat when this one isn’t around,” she said, playfully nudging Hunter.
Her son rolled his eyes.
“Come on, Mom,” he practically begged. “Jase and I wanna play my new game!”
Hadley ruffled her child’s hair affectionately and then came over to hug Sookie, even as Jason rushed over to give me a quick hug.
“Later, Captain!” yelled Hunter as he ran out of the house.
“See you at my swim practice day after tomorrow, Uncle Eric?” Jason asked me.
“Of course,” I promised.
“Cool. See yah soon!” he said before chasing after Hunter.
Hadley and Sookie sighed. “I’ll remind them that they shouldn’t run in the house—again!” Hadley emphasized, grabbing Jason’s little bag from the table.
“And remind Jase of his manners—makin’ you take his stuff for him,” Sookie said with a disapproving shake of her head. “And I guess I didn’t merit a goodbye either,” she chuckled.
Just then, Jason ran back into the kitchen, his eyes wide. “Sorry, Mom!” he said, taking his bag from Hadley.
“Sorry for running in the house?” Sookie asked, stifling her smile.
“Oh! That too!” he said before “hurrying” over to her to give her a big hug. “Love you! See you day after tomorrow.”
“Text when you get there—okay?” Sookie asked.
Jason nodded. After the accident, they both always called or texted one another when they had to travel by car. I couldn’t really blame them.
“Love you, Jase,” Sookie said, bending down to kiss her son’s forehead. “Mind your aunt,” she added. Though Hadley was Sookie’s cousin, Jason still referred to her as Aunt Hadley, even as Hunter called Sookie—Aunt Sookie.
“See you soon, Cuz,” Hadley grinned as she and Jason left the room—at a walk this time.
As soon as we heard the door close, Sookie’s eyes locked with mine. However, we stayed where we were for what seemed like several minutes—even after we heard Hadley’s minivan drive away.
“You want some tea?” Sookie finally asked.
I shook my head even as I stood from where I’d been sitting at the dining room table.
With purpose, I walked to her and took her into my arms before kissing her—hard. The kiss deepened almost immediately, our tongues joining and massaging.
When I had to take a breath, I started to trail kisses toward her ear.
Sookie groaned a bit as I nibbled on the tender skin between her ear and her neck.
“Take me to bed?” she half-asked and half-begged.
I picked her up, and her legs wrapped around me. I’d not forgotten all of the times I’d carried her up the stairs, but this time was different. This time she was placing tempting kisses along my face, chin, and neck.
I stopped at the landing on the second floor. “My bed,” I panted a little. “There are no sheets.”
“Take me to my bed,” she said meaningfully.
“Are you sure?” I asked. It wasn’t lost upon me that Sookie’s bed had also been her and Alcide’s bed.
“Yeah,” she said, still trailing kisses along my jaw.
“I need to go upstairs for the condom,” I panted.
“No need,” she purred. “I got us some more.”
“We’ll need them,” I felt myself growling as she took my earlobe between her teeth and bit a little.
I thought I was going to burst as I waited for Hadley to collect Jase and leave. Don’t get me wrong; I love my son—so much! But my body was craving Eric’s in a way I’d never craved another before. As soon as he got us to the bedroom, he set me onto my feet.
I couldn’t wait. Feeling animalistic, I pushed him back onto the bed, and I ripped my shirt over my head before joining him there—straddling him.
“Oh, God, Sookie!” he said—in that growly voice that I already knew would make my body tingle everywhere—every time I heard it. Impatient to feel all of him against all of me, I snapped off my bra before helping him off with his shirt. I unsnapped my shorts and shimmied out of them (and my panties), even as Eric seemed to read my mind and took off his swim trunks.
God! Of course, he was wearing no underwear.
I think I whimpered as I reached toward my nightstand and produced one of the condoms I’d purchased. I ripped open the package and placed the condom on his very ready “package.”
“Sookie,” he moaned as I stroked him a little. His own fingers sought out my center to test my readiness. He need not have bothered. I was dripping for him. Still impatient, I lined him up and then sank down upon him, sighing as I did so.
“No one,” I whispered. “No one has ever filled me like you do.”
“You feel so fucking good,” he said with emotion as he gripped my hips.
I rolled them, moving my body back and forth, rather than up and down for a moment, tickling my own clit against the rough patch of pubic hair above his cock.
“Ah,” I sighed, sinking into my pleasure as he rose into me.
Moving my hands to his strong, broad chest, I pressed down and then began to ride him. He helped—by moving my hips up and down with his hands.
We seemed to be in a race in that moment—racing to reach our orgasms; racing to see if we could fuck just a little faster, just a little harder.
I threw my head back as he shifted his angle from below me so that he was stroking that special place that Bill had never found and that Alcide had needed a lot of “help” to find. Eric’s cock seemed drawn to that spot.
“Oh yes! Yes!” I cried out, thankful that I could be as loud as I wanted to be in that moment.
“Yes!” Eric seemed to be agreeing with everything I was affirming in that moment.
One of his big hands moving to stroke my clit put me over the edge, and my body shuddered and throbbed as my orgasm hit me. He grunted and then came with me.
It was a perfect moment, and I had a lot more condoms! I managed to smile through my heaving breaths as I moved to lie down on top of him.
We stayed still for a couple of minutes, our only movements related to our re-regulating breathing and his gentle stroking of my back.
“Let me get rid of this thing this time,” he said gently.
“Thing?” I asked, not yet capable of figuring out what he was talking about.
“The condom,” he responded. “I don’t want to make a mess in your bed.”
“Oh,” I said with understanding as I shifted to the side to let him up. He quickly got out of bed and went into my bathroom. A moment later, I heard the water turn on, and about thirty seconds after that, he returned to bed with a glass of water and a wet washrag.
“A man who knows exactly what I need right now,” I smiled, as I sat up to take the water.
He chuckled and moved to clean my lady bits with the washrag. I noted that he was gentle in the task. I quickly gulped down about half of the water as he took the spent rag back into the bathroom. After he’d climbed back into bed, I handed him the remaining water. After taking a few drinks, he handed me the glass again.
He’d settled onto his back, so after I finished the water and put the glass onto the nightstand, I cuddled into him, my head on his chest.
“I like this,” he said after about five minutes of silence, during which I’d almost drifted asleep.
“I do too,” I sighed, propping myself up a bit to look into his beautiful blue eyes.
He seemed to be studying me for a moment.
“I love you, Sookie,” he said softly as he ran his fingers through my hair.
“I love you too, Eric,” I responded with a kiss to his chest.
He closed his eyes and sighed contentedly.
“I don’t know how to be in a relationship,” he admitted after a few moments. “I don’t know if you want to be in one with me.”
“I do want that,” I assured him, waiting for his eyes to open again. I wasn’t disappointed, though I did frown a bit at the surprise and doubt within his orbs.
“How—uh—will this work?” he asked.
I giggled a little. “It’s already working very well—don’t you think?”
I was surprised to see him blush a little. “Yes. This works very well,” he said squeezing me a little.
“You mean the rest of it?” I asked him.
“Yeah,” he nodded.
“Well,” I began, “we’ll need to tell Jase.”
Eric nodded, though he looked nervous.
“Don’t worry. He loves you,” I comforted.
He took a breath and then nodded. “Okay. When should we tell him?”
“How about Thursday, after his swimming practice? I’ll make us all lunch, and we’ll tell him.”
“Okay,” he agreed. “And—uh—how will we work?”
“Well,” I shrugged, “we’ll spend time together. We’ll go out on dates, and—uh—sometimes, you can spend the night here.”
“Will that confuse Jason?” he asked.
“We’ll have to make sure he’s okay with it,” I said after a moment. “He’s a smart kid, and I think honesty is the best policy with him. Alcide and I snuck around for a while—at least, we thought we did.”
“But he knew,” Eric said confidently.
“He told you?” I asked him; now I was blushing. “During one of your calls?”
Eric nodded. “Yes. Well—he didn’t go into detail, but he said that Alcide was spending the night sometimes, but that he wasn’t supposed to know.”
I sighed. “That kid has always been a bit too perceptive for his own good.”
We both chuckled.
“I have the next nine days off,” he ventured.
“Good,” I said as I rose up to kiss his chest. “I want as much of you as I can get, especially since . . . .” My voice trailed off.
“Since I’m going to Afghanistan in a few weeks?” he asked softly.
“Should I quit the Marines? Get a discharge? I can, you know. I’ve served long enough to be able to do that.”
His words—the abruptness of them—took me off-guard. I changed position so that I was lying on my side next to him. He turned onto his side as well. His hand came to rest in the curve of my hip.
“Do you want to quit?” I asked him.
He seemed to be in deep thought for a moment. “I’ve thought about it. And you know I’ve been taking some college classes. And—until I have a more set plan—I think I could work construction or maybe as a bartender.”
“You could run Merlotte’s with me,” I offered.
He smiled and leaned over to kiss me. “No. But thank you. Merlotte’s is your place. But I did like helping with your books. I could maybe start my own bar—close to the base or something.” He dragged his hand through his hair. I could see the uncertainty in his eyes.
“I have some money—from the sale of my parents’ house and my military pay. I never spent much—never really had much to spend it on after I got out from under that house. It would probably be enough to buy a place and renovate it into a decent bar,” he added.
“But that’s not what you want,” I said, deciphering the uncertainty in Eric’s eyes.
“No. At least, not yet,” he whispered. “I like what I’ve been doing at Bailey. I’m good at it.” He shook his head. “I’m a good soldier, Sookie. It’s something that,” he paused, “came naturally. I was worried that—after I had to quit swimming competitively—nothing else ever would.” He shook his head again. “Don’t get me wrong. A lot of my time in the Marines was hell. But I won’t have to be in combat anymore. I have—uh—well—there’s a Colonel in Afghanistan. He’s the one that helped me get to you and Jason so quickly after the accident. He also helped me get my assignment at Bailey. And I know he’ll help me keep it.”
“How did you get to us so fast?” I asked, having never asked him before.
“The Colonel—his name is Russell Edgington—fudged some paperwork. He said I had PTSD.”
“Did you?” I asked him softly. “Do you? I mean—the dreams. Last night’s was the worst I’ve seen, but—when you lived here—I heard you sometimes.”
“I’m sorry you had to hear that,” he frowned.
“It’s nothing to be sorry about,” I assured.
He sighed. “I do have PTSD—though it’s classified as a milder case than most; still, I’ve been working with therapists since,” he paused, “not long after Bill died. But it was never as bad as some guys suffer from it. I hate that Colonel Edgington lied for me, but . . . .”
“But?” I asked.
“If the accident had happened to my child—my wife,” he said gruffly, “then I would have been able to take an emergency leave. And, even before I loved you, I loved Jason like he was my son.”
“But the Marines wouldn’t have let you come because he wasn’t your son by blood,” I guessed.
“No. They wouldn’t have. It does make me feel a little less guilty about leaving now that I’ve been working with the base psychologist. He says that—if he had been my therapist in the field—he would have, at the very least, ordered some extended leave for me several tours ago. And he would have suggested a stateside duty station, too.” He sighed. “And that’s what I have now.”
“But they’re sending you to the field,” I reminded softly, trying to hide my anxiety and fear over that prospect.
“Yes. But it’ll be different.”
“There’s no such thing as safe in a warzone,” I said.
“I know,” he responded gently. “But it’s as safe as possible. I won’t be leading anyone into battle anymore.”
“No matter how good you are at it?” I asked.
“No more,” he whispered, his tone—though soft—seeming to echo through every battle he’d ever seen.
“Will you miss it—leading your men?” I asked after a few moments of silence.
He thought for a moment. “I’ll miss protecting the people under my command. I always saw that as my main objective. But I got over the idea that I could protect every Marine in the Corps a long time ago. And the training I do now might just protect more of them than I ever could as the captain of just one company.”
I sighed as I looked at the man who’d found his way into my heart. He was such a good man—so honorable and caring. He just didn’t seem to recognize that about himself sometimes.
“I won’t miss combat,” he continued. “I won’t miss worrying over the soldiers. I like what I’m doing now more.” He let out a long breath. “I’d planned to stay in for at least another ten years. As a Captain, I have a good living as a Marine. I was going to pick up my degree and start my bar after I leave the Corps. If I retire after putting in 20 years—the benefits would be good, and I’d get to keep them throughout my life.”
It was my turn to take a long breath. Could I live with the fact that I was with another Marine?
Yes—as long as it was this Marine.
“I don’t want you to quit,” I said softly.
“I don’t want you to ever worry,” he responded.
I shook my head. “I’ll worry more if you change who you are for me, Eric. I love who you are. Plus—I know better than anyone—that it doesn’t take a war to lose someone you love.”
“Will we get married one day?” he asked after a few minutes of silence had added up between us.
I gasped, but then chuckled. “Don’t you think it’s too soon for that kind of talk?”
“Is it?” he asked, truly not knowing.
“Well—we’ve only just gotten together. So—yeah—the marriage talk is a bit premature.”
He seemed disappointed.
“But maybe,” I said to comfort him. Then, I shook my head and really considered the idea. “Probably,” I corrected. “I mean—I can see myself with you for a very long time. And I don’t want to be with anyone else.”
“I feel the same,” he affirmed, a smile tugging at his lips.
We were quiet again—this time for quite a while, though we did not fall asleep. We simply looked at each other.
“Would you want kids?” I finally asked, feeling hypocritical since I, too, had raised a topic that was generally saved for a lot later in a relationship. Indeed, Alcide and I had talked about kids relatively early because he wasn’t able to father them; however, even we had waited until about two months into our dating.
Eric’s eyes opened in surprise; obviously, he’d not anticipated that topic. I felt even more self-conscious.
“More than Jason?” he asked.
I laughed a little—nervously. “Yeah.”
He thought for a moment. “I never thought I’d get to be a father.”
“You are already—you know,” I said softly. “To Jase. You’ve been like a father to him since Bill passed.”
He shook his head a little. “No. I just tried to be someone . . . .” He stopped for a moment. “Someone he had in his life that he could ask about things. Someone who’d be there for him.”
I brought my hand up to his cheek and stroked it. “However you sell yourself short, Eric, Jase has never had a more constant and more loving male figure in his life than you.”
He looked down, clearly abashed by my words, so I didn’t push that particular topic.
“So—kids?” I asked again. I couldn’t help myself.
He looked at me for a moment. “I’d let you lead on that.”
“What would you like?” I pushed.
He bit his lip a little—as if he worried about giving his answer and wanted to keep it in.
“It’ll be fine—either way you answer,” I assured. “I just want to know where your head and heart are on the matter.”
“My head,” he said softly. “Like I said, I’ve never thought about it before. I didn’t imagine myself in a,” he paused, “relationship with someone like you. But . . . .” His voice trailed off.
“But?” I asked.
“My heart,” he sighed. “When you mentioned them—just now.” He gulped. “My heart skipped and felt fuller. So—yeah—I’d like more kids—if it’s what you want, too. If I had children, I’d want no other mother for them, Sookie. Just you.”
I couldn’t help but to smile at his words. “I thought I was done having kids—since Alcide couldn’t father them. And I was fine with that. But my heart is also skippin’ when I imagine us having a child—of you being that child’s father. I like the thought of it.”
He placed his hand gently over my tummy. “I want so many things with you, Sookie.”
He leaned forward to kiss me; it was soft and slow—deliberate even—as if he were memorizing and savoring me.
I’d never felt more cherished.
A/N: Well, I hope this second chapter in two days helps to make up for my absence last week.
Please let me know what you think about this chapter if you have the time and inclination.