Sookie POV, continued
I sat on the couch, deliberately poured myself a cup of coffee, and took a long drink of it before looking at Lorena.
“Okay, Ms. Ball. Tell me what you came here to tell me,” I said, trying to sound strong.
I felt—and heard—my voice wavering though.
“It’s not going to help, but I truly wish that I didn’t have to be here,” Lorena said, her tone sounding almost bored—and not apologetic at all.
I nodded for her to go on.
She shrugged a little. “Probably best to be quick. I met Bill not long after he started his training. Let’s just say that I was going through a ‘Marine phase’ at the time. I believe that some of the more uncouth troops called girls like me ‘Marine mattresses.'” She looked at Eric and leered. “I considered that one for a few minutes, but—honestly—Captain America here didn’t seem like the type who’d be good for anything beyond a single fuck.” She shrugged. “He’s still a looker though—getting better with age, even.”
Out of the corner of my eye, I could see Eric wincing under Lorena’s ogling.
“Anyway, Bill was sitting next to tall and broody there. And he looked more my type anyway. I joined them, and Bill bought me a drink. I knew he was married from the start; he was a good boy and wore his ring.” Lorena rolled her eyes as if Bill’s marital status hadn’t bothered her at all—beyond being a slight nuisance. “Your boy there,” she said, pointing at Eric, “did try to get Bill out of my way. But once I decided I wanted him, I pursued him until he was mine.” She emphasized the last word.
I closed my eyes and took a steadying breath.
“How long did it go on?” I asked her.
“Whenever we could find time to be together, even if it was just for a few hours when he was returning through San Diego from a deployment. He always made sure to arrange things so that he could see me before he caught a flight to Louisiana—’home,'” she said, adding air quotes around the word “home,” as if the notion of Bill having one had been another mere nuisance to her. Or some kind of a joke. “When possible,” she continued, “he’d stay with me for a few days before or after each deployment. He said that you would believe any line he gave you about his scheduling.”
“He would say he had debriefings or prep meetings,” I recounted, my voice sounding far away from me—almost haunted.
She shrugged. “I didn’t ask him the specifics of what he told you. I just knew you weren’t really a problem for me.” She gave me a twisted smile. “You really were the perfect little obedient Southern wife to him.”
I felt like I’d been hit—hard. “When was the last time you were together in San Diego?” I asked, my voice shaking.
“Before his last deployment. We had five days together before he had to report to the base.”
“Five days?” I asked, feeling more hurt than I could express. If Lorena was telling me the truth—and my gut was telling me that she was—then that meant that Bill had purposely left me—and Jason—time and again before he’d needed to.
“And then Bill had a four-day leave in Kuwait City a month after his deployment. I was able to fly out to be with him,” she informed, her tone a mixture of spitefulness and mocking.
“You knew about this?” I asked Eric.
“Not everything,” he said gruffly. “Not about Kuwait City. I was temporarily assigned to a platoon that had a sick Sergeant—while the rest of my and Bill’s platoon was on leave.”
“But you knew about the affair?”
“Yes,” he admitted. “I did try to stop Bill from doing it. I swear I did—at first.” His face etched with guilt, he looked down. “But he eventually told me that what he did and with whom wasn’t my business and that if I wanted to remain his friend, I would have to drop the guilt trip I was laying on him. I loved him,” he said, his voice catching. “He was all I had then.”
I sighed and looked back at Lorena. “What do you want? Money?”
She scoffed, her face distorting unpleasantly. “I don’t need any charity from you. I didn’t want it after Captain America contacted me after Bill’s death, and I don’t want it now!”
“You contacted her?! When Bill died?” I asked Eric. In some ways, hearing that hurt more than anything else had—up to that point.
Looking as ill as I felt, Eric raised his eyes to mine and nodded.
“Why?” I followed up.
Eric wasn’t the one who answered.
“Why do you think?” Lorena asked, her unpleasant tone back in full force. “Bill fucking loved me and wanted to make sure I knew it! He had promised to take care of me. Hell! I’m pretty sure I could have even convinced him to leave you, given how unsatisfied he was in your bed.”
“Stop!” Eric said, his voice boiling.
“Stop what? Telling her the truth? Stop telling her what Bill used to tell me about little Miss Perfect here? That she was ‘sweet in bed,’ but not adventurous? That he liked what I could offer that she didn’t? Or should I avoid telling her that Bill saw her as little more than a cookie-cutter politician’s wife?”
“You’re wrong,” Eric said firmly, his gaze intense. “She’s wrong,” his voice softened as he turned to look at me.
I brushed away a tear.
“Did you come here just to torment me?” I asked Lorena, my voice barely audible. “If you don’t want money, what do you want? Just to ruin all my memories of Bill?”
Lorena’s spitefulness seemed to suddenly disappear again; I could already tell that she was the kind of person whose moods swung without warning.
She shook her head. “I told you Karma was a bitch. And—though I’ve always worked hard to be slender,” she said, looking at my “softer” figure with judgmental eyes, “I am not this emaciated by choice. I have cancer; in fact, I’m dying from it. Practically dead already,” she added with a dark chuckle.
Despite everything, I felt compassion for her. My feelings must have shown on my face.
She laughed almost maniacally. “You are just too good to be fucking true, Sookie! Bill was right that you were sweet enough to induce cavities! But there’s no need to pity me. Remember what I said about Karma. If you knew my whole story, you’d say that I was getting what I deserved. Hell! A lot of people would say that—even if they knew only what I did to seduce just your husband.” She sat forward. “And there have been a lot of husbands.” She grinned. “Most of them have been old and rich; I fuck them and use them. And they have paid me well over the years. I’ve enjoyed,” she paused, “a rather lavish lifestyle thanks to them. Hell! I even liked some of them! Others not so much. And it is from that group that I’ve made most of my fortune.” She shrugged. “I have blackmailed. I have used my conquests for insider knowledge of stocks or other investments. And—other times—I’ve just enjoyed their ‘gifts’ in exchange for my discretion.”
She began hacking, and—again—her energy seemed to wane. She took a drink of her water.
Once she’d stopped coughing, the room was silent for almost a minute as she tried to compose herself. I shifted uncomfortably in my seat. Finally, I couldn’t take the non-talking.
“I still don’t understand why you’re here,” I sighed.
“It’s not for me,” Lorena said tiredly. “It’s for my child. Bill’s child.”
I gasped and dropped my cup. Thankfully, most of the coffee had already been drunk.
Lorena sighed. “I wouldn’t have done any of those bad things—the blackmail, the threatening—with Bill, you know. I’ve targeted several politicians in my life. But I truly loved Bill. I never wanted anything beyond what he was willing to give, though I would have done everything in my power to get him to drop you and marry me. But I wouldn’t have destroyed him to do it, and he wouldn’t have wanted me to destroy you either. That’s why I never came here before.” She took another sip of water. “By the time I found out Bill was dead, I already knew I was pregnant. I had been hoping the baby would somehow change the equation and lead Bill to pick me over you.” She looked at me with a withering stare. “Had I not seen that as possible, I would have aborted it.”
I gasped in horror. I might have been pro-choice, but I hated abortion. Still, any mother who chose to keep a child only to manipulate the father of it seemed completely unnatural to me.
Lorena only laughed at my reaction. “See? Karma!” She shrugged. “Anyway, by the time I learned Bill was dead, I was already too far along for most doctors to perform an abortion. And,” she sighed, one of her hands ghosting over her concave belly, “I’d felt her by then. I loved her by then. And she’s why I’m here.”
Lorena sat up as straight as she could, a defiant air about her. “I made a lot of money in my,” she paused, “profession. But it’s not a line of work where one makes friends. Madison’s nanny is paid well to take good care of her—both when I’m working and when I’m not—because . . . .” She stopped speaking for a moment. “Frankly, I’m not the kind of person who should be a mother, but there’s just enough of a mothering gene in me to know that. So I’ve always left Madison’s primary care to a live-in nanny, and I’ve always hired those based on both expertise and,” she paused, “what I perceived to be the ability to care about Madison. Oh—I interact with my daughter—at times,” she said with an odd combination of wistfulness and disdain, “but she prefers her nanny.”
I figured the child had good reason to do that.
“I would have just contacted the Comptons—Bill’s parents. And I’m prepared to do just that if you say ‘no,’ but my child deserves better than I’ve done. A nanny is, after all, just a nanny. And though Ms. Jones is an excellent caretaker and genuinely cares for Madison, she’s not prepared to take over custody when I’m gone.”
I gasped. “Is that what you want? Me to take custody of your child?!”
“Bill’s,” she said firmly. “Madison is Bill’s.” She rolled her eyes. “I’m even prepared to do whatever DNA things you need to do in order to prove that. I’ve talked to my lawyer and doctor, and proving Madison is Bill’s will be easy with a little blood from either William or Sophie-Anne Compton or Madison’s half-sibling—Jason, if I recall his name correctly,” she said, gesturing toward the hallway.
I must have still been gaping like a fish.
“Listen, the Comptons are old, and I’ve done enough research to know that Bill’s mother is still recovering from a major stroke. And his father is tied to his work as a Senator. Of course, to avoid a scandal involving their dead son, I know they’d take on Madison. But I don’t want her secreted away to a series of boarding schools. And—even if they did accept her into their day-to-day lives—it’s not like they could do any better than I’ve been doing. They would hire Madison a Nanny, to be sure. But that still wouldn’t really offer her a family. It’s something I never had. And, perhaps,” she shrugged, “not having one is why I am what I am.”
I shook my head a little—maybe hoping to wake myself up from a nightmare.
Lorena was silent for a moment. “I’m a fucked-up mother. In fact, it’s probably good that I’m going to be keeling over while Madison is so young—too young to remember much about me.”
“She’s six?” I asked.
“Yeah. She’ll be seven in January. I had just found out about her when I met Bill in Kuwait City, but I wasn’t showing yet. I decided to wait to tell him. I figured he might try to talk me into an abortion if I told him then.”
Lorena stood. Her legs were shaky. “Look, Sookie, I know I just opened up Pandora’s Box in your living room, but I don’t have time to fuck around. After my last chemo round had no real effect on the tumors in my lymphatic system, I was told that there’s nothing more that can be done. I was advised to have my affairs in order by this time next month, when I’ll likely be in hospice care and on my death bed. And I don’t want to wait until the last minute. I have one—maybe two—more weeks where I can get around like this,” she said, gesturing toward herself. “So, if your answer is ‘no,’ then I need time to contact the Comptons. If it’s ‘yes,’ then the custody paperwork needs to be taken care of.” She gestured around the room. “It’s smoother if a case worker does a home visit and whatnot—since you’re not a blood relative. And I’d like for the adoption to be well on its way before I’m dead and gone. But just listing you as Madison’s guardian in my Will while I’m still of sound mind and sound enough body to sign the document seems to be enough to give away my daughter—if you want her.”
I was still stunned—too stunned to speak.
Seeming to recognize that, Eric spoke. “Do you have any family that would challenge your Will?”
Lorena scoffed. “My biological father signed away custodial rights to me before I was born, and my mom died when I was thirteen. I have no brothers and sisters that I know of, and if I have aunts, uncles, and cousins, I never met them.” She looked at me. “I’ve fucked up your life, but I hope you take Madison. She’s a good kid—despite me. We’re staying at the Remington in downtown Shreveport, not that it lives up to the hype,” she scoffed. “We’ll be there for five days. If I haven’t heard from you by then, I’m going to call William Compton and set Plan B in motion. As Madison’s blood kin, the Comptons will hopefully feel some obligation. Of course, Madison’s your son’s sister, so there’s that factor. Hopefully, that’ll help convince you to take her in. Even if you don’t agree to custody, my lawyer says a DNA test will grease the wheels with the Comptons, so I’d appreciate it if a bit of your son’s blood could be drawn for a comparison with Madison’s. I can hire a technician to come here and do it, or you can just go to a hospital in Shreveport.”
Lorena walked to the door. The hostess in me got up to accompany her. Eric stayed put, his head in his hands.
“Are you well enough to drive back to the hotel?” I asked the pale woman.
She turned to me and shook her head. “That compassion you have—for me—is wasted. But it’s why you’ll end up taking Madison. Five days, Sookie,” she said, putting a card on the entryway table. “My cell is on that. Call me when you decide—or for information about getting your child’s DNA tested.”
I almost laughed when I saw that her card said “Ball Consulting.”
Given what she’d told me, that “business name” seemed appropriate—sick and gross, but appropriate.
Lorena left without ever answering my question about whether or not she was okay to drive. I guess she was.
Feeling like I’d just had my butt kicked in a boxing ring, I slowly made my way back to the living room and sat down. I looked toward Eric, wishing he was next to me on the couch. Hell! Under any other circumstances, I would have sought out his comfort in this difficult situation. But I couldn’t help but to feel a sense of betrayal.
I saw that my coffee cup had been picked up from the floor and placed onto the tray. I’d chipped it. The spilled liquid on the carpet had clearly been soaked up by some napkins, which were now on the side of the tray. Eric must have cleaned up as I’d talked to Lorena in the entryway.
I shivered and used the coffee cup Eric hadn’t touched to pour myself another cup of coffee. I took a long drink.
“I’m so sorry, Sookie,” Eric said softly. “There’s nothing I can do to make this better, nothing I can say to earn your forgiveness.”
I sighed and set my cup down so that I wouldn’t drop and chip another. Or throw it at him.
“Tell me everything you knew about her and when you knew it,” I demanded of the man I loved—about the man I’d once loved.
A/N: Well—I’m surprised that none of you guessed that Lorena was coming about a child! Did I surprise you with that one? Creating a Bill that I was ambivalent about was always one of my goals in this piece. Often in my stories, he’s a clear “bad guy,” made worse by his obsession with Sookie. The Bill in this story is very flawed, and I hate a cheater. But he’s also a man who chose to be a soldier and who became a friend to Eric. He’s the little boy that followed Sookie into the woods when she ran into them following her parents’ death because he wanted to make sure that she was okay. So—yeah—this Bill was someone that I wanted to complicate.
Anyway, I hope that you enjoyed this chapter. If I were Sookie, I’d be hurt and angry and confused and freaked out that this woman is trying to give her Bill’s child. This scene was one that I conceptualized early because I thought that it would be a major internal conflict for Sookie. And it set up a huge test for this Sookie: Will she push her anger at Bill onto Eric? And will she include him in the decision of whether or not to take in Madison?
We’ll see. Please leave me a comment if you have the time and inclination.
Until next time,