NOTE: The following chapter occurs THREE WEEKS after the previous.
NOTE: Whiskey, Tango, and Foxtrot are all “letters” of the military alphabet. I’ve heard tell that if a soldier says these, especially over the radio, it’s like saying “What the fuck?”—WTF.
Sunday, July 31, 2011 • 0815 hours/ 8:15 a.m.
“You have your appointment set up? And Jason’s?” I asked Sookie.
We were lying in her bed, looking at each other. We often found ourselves like that these days, simply staring at each other appreciatively—either before or after we’d made love.
“I scheduled two per week—for the both of us—while you’re gone,” she informed softly.
I nodded. It made me feel better to know that she and Jason would both be seeing Claudine more than usual while I was in Afghanistan. I wasn’t frightened for myself, though—for the first time in my life—I had so very much to lose. However, I was apprehensive about leaving behind Sookie and Jason, for they were both nervous about my going.
I placed my hand on her cheek gently, trying to comfort her, yet the bit of worry that had been creeping into her eyes for the last week did not go away.
I’d talked to Colonel Flood about Sookie’s worry—since his marriage and family had survived and thrived through several deployments as well as a long career in service. He’d told me that the concern I saw in Sookie’s eyes would not be gone until she saw me upon my return.
He’d further explained that the worry living in the eyes was the most obvious mark of the families of deployed soldiers. There was no way around it, and nothing to be done for it.
Colonel Flood had cautioned me against making promises I might not be able to keep or guarantees about my safety. He’d suggested—instead—that I acknowledge the worry I saw in Sookie and Jason. Pretending it wasn’t there, he’d told me, would only make my family feel as if I did not take their fears seriously.
Sookie and Jason were my family!
More and more every day.
And I took everything about them seriously.
Despite Sookie and my previous plans to take things slowly and live “separately” for a while as we “dated,” we had spent most of our nights together since Jason had given us his stamp of approval. I wasn’t upset at all that the plans had changed, though I’d not been the one to change them.
That had been the twelve-year-old.
After Sookie and I had tried to implement our plan for “casual dating,” Jason shared that he thought it was “kinda stupid” that we weren’t spending more time together—since it was so obvious that we all wanted to.
So we did.
Oh—I had made a point to take Sookie out alone a few times—for “dates”—but we’d also enjoyed a lot of family time with Jason, too. In fact, Sookie and I had spent only two nights apart before Jason made his comments about our “stupidity.” Not even Sookie had scolded him for what might have been perceived as rudeness.
He’d been right, after all.
After that, we’d quickly found a routine that worked for us: a routine I hoped to keep for a very, very long time.
Since Sookie did so much of her bookkeeping work online, she did not need to be at Norris Contractors very often, though she would drop by every other week or so for a meeting with Calvin. She tended to go into Merlotte’s a lot more than that—at least four nights a week—but she’d had no difficulty cutting that down to two nights a week since Teri had proven to be a much more efficient manager since he’d been getting help with the psychologist at Bailey for his PTSD. He was fine with managing Merlotte’s on his own five nights a week (though Sookie still handled most of the bookkeeping). And Sookie now had two reliable daytime assistant managers that rotated the dayshifts and pitched in on the busy nights as well.
We’d decided that—until I left on my trip to Afghanistan—we would all spend Mondays through Wednesdays at my base residence and Thursdays through Sundays at the farmhouse. Sookie went into Merlotte’s on Friday and Saturday nights. And I continued my Monday through Thursday schedule at the base, though I’d been putting in slightly longer hours in preparation for my trip and had needed to drive out the previous morning for a briefing.
All in all, I did not mind a forty-five-minute commute to Bailey—if it meant that I could be with Jason and Sookie at the farmhouse fulltime. And I was determined to broach the topic of just moving in with them when I returned from Afghanistan.
“I’m worried about your going,” Sookie sighed, breaking me from my musings.
“I know,” I acknowledged softly.
We’d had several discussions about my future with the Marine Corps, and we’d decided to revisit the topic when I returned home after my twenty-three-day trip, which would begin on August 3—only three days away. Once I got back, both Sookie and I wanted to have a frank conversation with Jason about how we all handled our separation in order to know what to do going forward.
I did know one thing. If the toll was too high on Sookie and Jason when I was gone, I would be making some changes with my career, even if it meant leaving the Marines before I could draw full benefits.
I liked what I did. I liked being a Marine. And I was proud to be one. I couldn’t deny any of those things. Sookie and Jason were ultimately more important to me, however.
Though I might not like it as much, I knew I’d be fine in a different career, especially now that I had Sookie and Jason. They would—as amazing and almost unbelievable as the idea seemed—support me with whatever I decided to do.
“Penny for your thoughts,” Sookie requested with a little smile.
“I’m thinking about you and Jason,” I said honestly. “About how you two are my priority now.”
Sookie raised her hand up to my cheek, mirroring my previous gesture. “And you’re ours.”
“I’m so lucky,” I said, barely conscious that the words had escaped me. I had thought them constantly, and the words had slipped out more than once during the last several weeks.
Sookie and I leaned in and kissed each other slowly, affectionately.
We’d woken up that morning and made love—as we often did when we found ourselves already entangled upon waking. And then we’d lain in bed simply enjoying each other’s presence—as we also often did.
It was Sunday morning—and still early. The alarm clock that would tell us to get out of bed, prepare breakfast, and get ready for church was still thirty minutes from going off. So I was happy with the idea of making love to Sookie again. And—given our escalating passion in the kiss—I could tell that she was thinking along those lines, too.
However, we were interrupted by the sound of a vehicle approaching, an odd sound at 0700 hours on a Sunday morning when one lived out in the woods.
Sookie and I broke our kiss in time to be looking at each other when the vehicle’s horn sounded several times in quick succession. I got up quickly, pulling on some jeans and a T-shirt, even as Sookie put on her nightgown and a robe.
The car horn bleated three more times, with the last one sounding as if the horn-honker lay against it for almost half a minute.
“Who in the hell blasts a car horn at this time of morning?” Sookie muttered with frustration. “They’re gonna wake up Jase!”
I chuckled a little, even though I was curious about who could be visiting, too. By the looks of it, they would be getting a piece of Sookie’s mind. Indeed, her feistiness stirred my loins even more than they’d been before.
Seeming to sense my thought, she smirked at me before smacking me on the ass.
“Let’s go get rid of the honker, Captain,” she grinned, “so that we can pick up where we left off.”
I couldn’t have agreed more and followed her out of the bedroom.
“Momma?” Jason asked from the hallway; he was on his crutches, having not put on his leg yet. He’d clearly been woken up by the honking and/or the pounding on the door that had begun as Sookie and I started down the stairs.
“Try to go back to bed, Sweetie,” Sookie said with an exasperated sigh. “We’ll see who this is and then make breakfast. We’ll wake you when it’s ready.”
A clearly still-half-asleep Jason nodded and then made his way back into his bedroom as Sookie went to the door and peeped through the peephole.
As another round of pounding began, she looked back at me in confusion. “It’s a woman I don’t know,” she said with a frown.
Being of a protective nature anyway, I motioned for Sookie to get behind me as I looked out the peephole.
My heart dropped, and my stomach tightened and then turned.
I looked back at Sookie. “I’m so sorry,” were the only words I could speak.
“Sorry?” I asked Eric. He’d gone pale.
As more knocking commenced, I stepped around him and opened the door. He didn’t try to stop me, so I figured that he didn’t think whoever was outside was dangerous.
Given the woman’s pissed off look and the fact that he’d just apologized, it hit me that the woman might be the person who’d been Eric’s sex partner in Shreveport before he and I became a couple. Though I wasn’t really jealous, I didn’t like the thought of someone messing with my family’s bubble—not at all.
“Can I help you?” I asked the woman.
Her hand was up as if she’d been getting ready to pound on the door some more. Why she’d not used the doorbell was beyond me!
Also a mystery was how someone as frail-looking as the woman in front of me could have made such a loud noise. She was downright skeletal, and—though she was taller than I was—she looked to be about forty pounds lighter than my 135 pounds.
I could tell that she was a beautiful woman—or that she could have been one. Her face, twisted into a scowl, ruined any beauty she might have had in that moment.
She was dressed quite richly—in a designer blouse and slacks. And I could tell that the shoes pointing out from those pants were more expensive than any single thing in my current wardrobe.
Despite her polished clothing, there was something “off” about the woman—beyond her sour expression and rude honking and knocking. She had auburn hair, but it seemed to have lost its shine. Her eyes were a lovely shade of chocolate brown, but they were lifeless and a little unfocused.
“You’re Sookie Compton,” the woman practically spit out.
“Sookie Herveaux,” I corrected. “Can I help you?”
She looked at me and scowled. “My name is Lorena Ball, and I’m here to collect what’s owed to me!”
I shook my head a little. “I don’t know what you’re talking about. I don’t owe you anything. I don’t even know you, Ms. Ball.”
“He knows me,” she said, looking at Eric and licking her lips in a way that she probably thought was attractive. She pointed at him with her boney finger, and then directed that digit at me. “And so did your husband, Bill! Oh—he knew me very, very well once upon a time.”
I turned to look at Eric; he was incredibly pale. “What’s going on?” I asked him.
“She doesn’t know—does she?” Lorena cackled. “She has no fuckin’ clue that her husband fucked me whenever he got the chance!”
“Momma?” Jase asked from the hall, his eyes wide. Clearly, he’d heard at least part of what the insane woman in the entryway was spewing.
“Jase, go to your room. Now!” I added firmly, not wanting my son anywhere near what was going on. “We’ll come and get you when Ms. Ball leaves.”
Reluctantly, Jase went back to his room.
“Shut the door, Sweetie!” I yelled after him, keeping my eyes on Lorena.
She sighed, and—for a moment—she looked both regretful and tired.
And ill. Very, very ill.
“I’m sorry your boy heard that,” she said tiredly. She chuckled somewhat darkly. “I’ve never been what anyone would call a good person, Mrs. Compton—I mean Mrs. Herveaux. But I’ve been trying to do better the last several years.” She shook her head. “Not always succeeding though. And, given what I’m here to do, I probably should be doing things quite differently.”
“What are you here to do?” I asked her.
Lorena looked at me as if studying me, and then she looked at Eric. “She knows nothing about me?” she asked him. “Nothing at all?”
I looked at the man next to me. He shook his head. “No, Ma’am,” he said in barely a whisper.
“I can’t say I’m surprised,” Lorena said to Eric before addressing me again. “Bill told me once that you knew what he and I did together—that you understood his needs and knew your place,” she added, a bit judgmentally.
“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” I hissed. I shook my head, confused at what this woman was even talking about or why she was in my house. And I was even more confused because Eric clearly seemed to be frightened of her. I felt a sense of anger growing in me, even as my mind began to connect dots that it didn’t want to see.
But all my confusion—and my growing anger—faltered as the woman in front of me swayed on her feet. She grabbed weakly onto the doorframe, and Eric moved quickly to ensure that she didn’t fall.
“Are you okay?” I asked her with concern.
It took Lorena a moment to answer. “It catches up with me a lot more now.”
“What does?” I asked.
“Karma,” she said flatly. “Most people I’ve encountered would call it karma.”
Though frustrated at the non-answers by the woman in front of me, I looked at Eric. “Help her into the living room—would you? I’ll get her some water and maybe something to eat?” I looked at her. “Would food help or hurt?”
Lorena let out a little laugh. “Bill always said you were the perfect Southern hostess.”
I shook my head at the latest non-answer and went to the kitchen. I was thankful that Eric and I had set the timer on the coffee maker; I needed some badly!
I also needed answers.
I started filling up a tray with the coffee pot, a few coffee cups, and a glass of water. I quickly added a couple of muffins we had left over from the morning before.
I doubted that Gran would have been very impressed by my presentation skills, but I’d done the best I could, given the circumstances.
I sighed as I took a moment to compose myself. I was a thirty-one-year-old woman. I wasn’t naïve anymore, nor was I purposely blind. And, though cryptic and unpleasant, the woman—Lorena—had not been subtle. I steeled myself; she had come to my home to tell me something about Bill, something that Eric knew. Moreover, it was clear from her words that she was going to tell me that Bill had been unfaithful to me. And Eric’s reaction had all but confirmed what she was going to say.
I closed my eyes, and a memory of Bill came into my mind. I was about six months pregnant at the time, and he’d come home for two days in order to go to my doctor’s appointment with me. We were to learn the gender of the baby that day. My GYN had been able to tell during my appointment two weeks earlier, but I’d asked that she hold off on telling me the information until Bill could be with me.
My husband had been tired when he got to Bon Temps—at a time in the early morning that was similar to the one when Lorena had just arrived. Still, I’d been so happy to see him.
Given the problems with my pregnancy, sex was out, but Bill seemed to understand that. After he’d taken a quick shower—to “wash off his trip”—we’d cuddled together for a morning nap. And we’d spooned, one of his hands placed carefully onto my belly. When we woke up, we talked for a while. I asked him about his training. And he mentioned being grateful for the week-long leave he’d been given.
I’d been confused. “A week?” I’d asked him. I’d wanted to know why he was staying only two days if he had a whole week! He and I hadn’t had that long together since he’d had a break between Basic Training and his first more specialized training assignment.
Bill had chuckled and affectionately brushed my hair behind my ears, shaking his head as he’d done so. He corrected himself, saying that he’d misspoken about the time off. The leave was just three days long, after all. He said that a week must have just been wishful thinking on his part.
I’d giggled with him in agreement. And then we’d gotten up and gone to my doctor’s appointment. Anything else had been forgotten as we looked at the images on the ultrasound—our beautiful baby.
Bill had been so proud, and I’d smiled so much that my cheeks hurt.
Those two days had been full of love, and Bill’s hands had rested for many minutes against my belly—where our son was kicking him in greeting.
Those close times had been rare during my pregnancy, but I’d understood why that rarity was necessary. After all, Bill was doing his training, and I wanted him to have all the preparation he could get so that he’d be safer.
Indeed, I’d become an expert at telling people that it didn’t matter so much that Bill wasn’t around when I was carrying Jase—that Bill was doing what he had to do in order to become a soldier.
What he had to do.
I shook myself out of my thoughts and picked up the tray. Upon entering the living room, I saw that Lorena was seated in one of the arm chairs that were at ninety-degree angles on either side of the couch. Eric was seated in the other. It was clear that the two hadn’t spoken to each other.
I set down the tray and handed a glass of water to Lorena. She looked a little better than she had.
“I’ll need to ask for one more minute before our conversation,” I said to Lorena firmly. I didn’t wait for an answer before going back to Jase’s room. I knocked lightly.
“Come in,” he said, his voice anxiety-filled.
“Momma, who is that?” he asked in a hushed tone as soon as I’d closed the door behind me.
“I’m not a hundred percent sure yet,” I said honestly. “I think she knew your father once.”
Jase looked a little confused. “Why is she here?”
“I’m not sure about that yet either, Sweetie,” I sighed. “But I want you to know that it’s okay. Eric and I are gonna talk to her for a little while. Then we’ll make breakfast—okay?”
Jase nodded. “Should I get ready for church?”
I glanced at the clock. “I think we’ll have to skip this morning’s service. But—we’ll go to the evening service so that you can see Jessica. Cool?”
“Cool,” Jase said, though he was clearly still pensive.
“You can go back to sleep if you want. Our talk might take a while,” I speculated.
My son nodded, but then shook his head. “I’m not tired anymore. Can I watch cartoons?”
“Sure,” I said, turning on his little television and handing him the remote control. I’d gotten him a T.V. for his room—along with about twenty rules for when he was allowed to use it—for his twelfth birthday. I was particularly glad that its noise would counter anything that was said in the living room.
Taking a deep breath, I collected myself and stood up.
“Is everything okay, Momma?”
“I’m sure it will be, Jase,” I said, hoping I wasn’t lying to my son. “Whatever’s wrong, we’ll deal with it,” I followed up with a more honest answer.
Jase nodded and turned to the television as I left his room. And then I rejoined the others in the living room.
A/N: Hello all! I hope that you “enjoyed” this chapter. Many of you have been wondering if/when Lorena would rear her head. Well, she’s here! Unfortunately, there will be more from her next time. Stayed tuned.
Please comment if you have the time and inclination. My grading stack is finally dwindling a bit, and I hope to do a lot of writing on The Engine soon so that I can restart that story. Sorry for the pause in that story, but—between work and life and fibromyalgia—I’ve had a rough couple of months, and my muse has been hiding out. The good news is that I already have done some work on the coming chapters (as Kleannhouse is my witness).
All the best,