NOTE: “Going high and to the Right” in “military-speak is losing one’s temper or rationality; it comes from the error of a poor shooter to jerk the trigger and, therefore, impact the upper right side of a target.
Sookie POV, continued
If there was one thing I knew for sure: it was that Eric was punishing himself in that moment—much more than I would ever want him to be punished. But I was hurting, too.
He nodded. “After Boot Camp, we had a couple of weeks off and then had to report back to San Diego for more training.”
“I remember,” I said softly.
“Well—uh—that second round of training wasn’t as intense as boot, and we’d get every other weekend off. The first one we had off, we went to a bar we always went to whenever we got any time away. I noticed Lorena flirting with Bill. He did tell her that he was married, but she kept going on. That night, I talked him out of pursuing anything with her, though he clearly seemed interested. He was really drunk,” he added as if that might explain Bill’s behavior. To his credit, even Eric sounded skeptical about his words. He shook his head. “I hated the thought that he would cheat on you. And I think that Bill hated it too.”
“But he did it anyway,” I said bitterly.
“Yes,” he confirmed softly. “Whenever we had a weekend leave, we’d go to that bar, and she’d always be there—waiting for him. I continued to try to talk him out of anything—to remind him he had a wife at home and a child on the way. I couldn’t believe he was even tempted,” he said sincerely. “I mean—by then, you and I had talked on the phone, so I knew how kind you were. You’d wanted to introduce yourself to me—just because I was Bill’s friend.”
“I remember,” I whispered.
“And I’ll never forget how your words made me feel like I’d be welcome in your home.”
“Yet you didn’t visit. I invited you to come here with Bill after Boot Camp. And, again, any time you two had extended leave.”
Eric shrugged and looked down. “I felt that—with you pregnant and having a hard time with the pregnancy—I would only be a third wheel here. I didn’t want to intrude. I wanted you to have all the time you could get with him.”
“Too bad Bill didn’t want the same,” I stated flatly.
“I didn’t know that Bill spent so much time with Lorena on his leaves,” he informed softly. “If I had, I would have come here—just to make sure he also came home for longer periods. He wouldn’t have been able to lie about his schedule so much if I’d come.”
“You can’t blame yourself for his actions,” I said.
He shook his head, unconvinced at my exoneration of him. “I thought I was doing right—never coming here—because you and Bill needed time together. And then—you, Bill, and Jason needed time. I didn’t want to be in the way.”
I sighed, seeing the pain in Eric’s eyes as he justified one of the many isolations that he’d placed upon himself. Yes—I knew that Eric was telling the truth, that his actions had been done for Bill and me. But he’d also isolated himself because he didn’t think that he was worthy of people caring about him. For the millionth time, I wished that Appius was still alive so that I could kick his ass.
I returned to the topic at hand. “So Bill eventually gave in to Lorena and started up an affair with her.”
“And he was with her every time he went to San Diego after that?”
“I’m not sure. But I think so—yes. After Bill gave me the choice to either butt out of his business or get out of his life forever, I kept my mouth shut about Lorena. I was a coward. I’m so sorry,” he said, his eyes shining with emotion. “I felt that—if I kept pushing him—I would lose him.” He looked down. “He was the only friend I had—the only personal connection I had—other than Pam, who was in London. I simply turned my head to what was going on.”
“Did he spend a lot of time with her?” I asked.
“After they left the bar together the first time, he didn’t always go to the bar with the other guys and me when we were in San Diego. And—if he did—he’d never stay long. He would go off on his own. I guessed where he was going, but I didn’t ask any questions. I didn’t know that he was spending time with her before we needed to report for training or after we returned from a tour. I thought he was with you up to the last minute; I thought he’d return to you as soon as possible when we returned to the States. And I didn’t know about Kuwait City.”
“And after he died?” I asked, brushing away an errant tear.
“Bill and I talked about what to do for each other if we were killed,” he said softly. “There were some things that he wanted to be taken out of his footlocker before it was sent back to you.”
“Things?” I asked.
“A picture of him and Lorena, as well as her phone number.”
Again, I felt like I’d been hit in the gut. “He kept a picture of her?”
He nodded. “Yes. He’d wanted me to make sure you never saw it—and to call her to tell her if he died. So I did.”
“Before or after you called me?” I asked, trying to reign in my hurt.
“Several days after,” he conveyed. “I had hoped that he’d break things off with her, Sookie. And—no matter what she said—Bill never told me anything to lead me to believe that he didn’t love you. He never said anything negative about you at all! And he talked about you and Jason all the time. He loved you two!”
“But not enough,” I sighed. “He wasn’t even faithful for half a year.”
We were silent for a moment.
“Thanks for not trying to justify that he was just doing what soldiers have to in order to get through,” I said somewhat cuttingly.
“There was no justification for what he did,” Eric said softly. “I always hated that he was doing it to you—and Jason. I never understood it.”
“And you didn’t tell me after he died because you thought it would cause me only pain,” I sighed. In truth, I understood why Eric had never told me, but I was hurt, nonetheless.
“And you didn’t tell me after we became closer because you didn’t want to hurt me, and you saw no reason to do it,” I continued to speculate.
“Yes,” he agreed.
“Was there anything else that you had to throw away from the footlocker?” I asked, though I was afraid of the answer.
He winced. “Yes. A picture of another woman, Selah.”
“Bill had an affair with her, too?” I asked, feeling more anger than hurt in that moment.
“No. I mean—he slept with her, but that was before you got married.”
Again, it felt like the wind had been knocked out of me.
“He made such a huge deal about us both being virgins. I’d wanted to make love before we got married, but he thought it was important to wait!” I said, my tone sounding more acidic that ever before.
“He told me that he was nervous about not making you happy—uh—during sex,” Eric said rather awkwardly. “His father helped him to find someone, a professional—to teach him,” he added hesitantly.
“William took Bill to a brothel?!” I asked incredulously.
“Yes,” Eric confirmed.
I shook my head, trying to come to terms with the fact that Bill had not been the person I’d thought he was.
“I would have never thought he was capable of lying to me like this—betraying me like this?”
“He loved you. No matter what he did, he loved you,” Eric repeated brokenly.
I closed my eyes for a moment and pressed my fingers into my temples. “Would you go get Jase? I need to talk to him.”
“Sookie, please. Are we . . . ?” Eric’s voice trailed off. “I’ll go get him,” he said softly, padding out of the room.
When Jase came in, Eric trailed behind him.
“Do you want a muffin, Sweetie?” I asked my son. “I still haven’t gotten around to making breakfast.”
“Okay,” Jase said uncertainly, sensing the somberness in the room.
“Eric, would you grab Jase an orange juice?” I asked, still reeling, but needing to explain things to Jase—at least to a certain extent. To do otherwise would be continuing the lies. And to wait would only be putting off the agony and making Jase stew needlessly.
There was a problem that needed to be dealt with. When I was younger, I might have tried putting off that problem to another day—ala Scarlet O’Hara—but I didn’t have the luxury of dragging my feet when it came to dealing with difficult situations anymore.
Eric nodded and went to get the juice. He was back by the time Jase had nibbled through about a quarter of his muffin.
“Who was that lady?” my son asked.
“Her name is Lorena,” I said as Eric sat back down. Jase had joined me on the couch, and Eric had resumed his seat from before. I took a deep breath as Jase took a drink of his juice.
“I have some things that I have to tell you. They aren’t going to be easy for you to learn about, but you need to know them—okay?” I began.
I smiled at him—or I hoped that he read my expression as a comforting smile.
“Lorena was your father’s girlfriend, even after he and I were married,” I said, trying to keep my voice from catching due to the emotion I felt.
Jase frowned deeply. “Daddy had a girlfriend that wasn’t you? But husbands aren’t supposed to have girlfriends!”
“No. They are not,” I said firmly, letting a little of my anger at Bill come through. “Your father did wrong when he decided to have a girlfriend. And—if he were alive—I would kick his butt and probably divorce him.”
“Like Miss Arlene divorced her husband Rene for bein’ a no-count, lyin’, cheatin’ low-life?” Jase asked. “At least, that’s what Jessica said he was.”
I managed to hold in my dark chuckle at my son’s phrasing. “It’s not our place to gossip about other people’s lives, Jase. But—yes—Arlene caught Rene cheating on her, and she divorced him. People who get married promise not to do that kind of thing.”
“Was my daddy what Rene was?” Jase asked. “A no-count, lyin’, cheatin’ low-life?”
I sighed. “It’s complicated, Sweetie. When we were together, I loved your daddy a lot, and a part of me will always love him, no matter what he did. He gave me you, after all,” I said with a sincere smile. “And I’ll never forget the things he did right as a husband and a father.”
“Like give us Uncle Eric?” he asked.
I glanced over at Eric, who was still looking tortured.
“Yes. Your daddy wanted to make sure we were looked after, so he asked Eric to do that if he couldn’t.” I took a deep breath. “You need to know, though, that I’m real mad at Eric right now.”
“Why?” Jase asked. “He doesn’t have another girlfriend, too—does he?”
“No!” I responded quickly, even as I saw Eric tensing in the corner of my eye. “But he knew your daddy had one.”
“You did?” Jase asked Eric.
“I did,” the man confessed brokenly.
“Listen, Sweetie,” I said to Jase. “Eric was your daddy’s best friend before he was our friend, and your daddy asked him to keep a secret from me a long time ago. He did that, and I forgive him for that.”
“But you’re mad at him?” Jase asked.
“Yes. Right now, I am.”
Jase shook his head. “I’m confused.”
I chuckled a little. “Me too, Sweetie. But I want you to know that—even though I’m mad at Eric—I still love him. And I don’t want you to be mad at him just because I am. I’m a lot madder at your daddy, but since he’s,” I paused, “not here to yell at, I need to spend some time figuring out how to feel about things.”
“Okay,” Jase said softly. “I don’t have to be mad at Uncle Eric?”
“No, Sir,” I said firmly. I took a deep breath. “There is more I need to tell you though—about why Lorena came here. She’s real sick with cancer.”
“Like your grandpa had? And Aunt Hadley’s momma?” he asked.
Of course, he’d heard a bit about our family’s history from both me and Gran.
“Yeah. Lorena is sick, and her doctors don’t think she’ll pull through. She wanted to come here to tell us that,” I paused and took another deep breath, “she had a baby with your daddy, Jase. You have a sister. She wanted to know if we wanted to have your sister come and live with us.”
“I have a sister?” Jase asked, the shock clear in his eyes.
“It seems so. We’ll need to go to the doctor’s office where they’ll take a little blood from you to make sure, but it seems that you do have a sister. Well—a half-sister—since I’m not her momma.”
Jase sat quietly for a moment before looking at Eric. “Did you know that I had a sister?” he asked, his voice laced with hurt.
“No,” Eric responded. “Your dad didn’t know either.”
Jase looked down at the half-eaten muffin in his hands. “Will I get to meet her?”
I sighed. “That’s part of why I needed to tell you all of this, Sweetie. You and I need to figure out what to do together. Lorena’s daughter is still a little girl—only 6. And it’s not her fault that any of this is happening. We could decide to have her live with us, or we could tell Lorena that we don’t want that. We could decide to meet Madison, or we could decide not to. And—even if we meet her—we don’t have to have her live with us. Whatever we decide, though, we’ll do it together—okay?”
Jase nodded. “Her name’s Madison?”
“Yes,” I confirmed.
Jase was silent for a moment. “Can I go to my room for a while?”
“Yes,” I responded. “If you want to talk about any of this, you just give me a holler. Okay?”
He nodded and put the remaining muffin on the tray. “I don’t have to eat breakfast—do I?”
“No, Sweetie. But you will need to eat lunch. We’ll do Mac-n-cheese—okay?”
He nodded solemnly, despite the promise of his favorite food. My heart aching, I watched as Jase went back to his room.
Once he’d closed his door, the air in the room seemed to thicken.
“I hate this,” I remarked. “I hate all of it.”
“Me too,” Eric said softly.
I looked at him. His shoulders were slumped, his handsome face set in a frown.
“I love you, Eric. That’s why it hurts that you knew about Lorena and said nothing to me. But I do understand why you didn’t tell me. Still, that doesn’t make the hurt magically go away. I really hope it does fade—and soon. But—for now—I think it’s best if you go. As much as I hate it, I need some time to process all of this without you here.”
“I’d like to be a part of that process,” he said softly.
I sighed deeply. “A big part of that wants that too, Eric. But—right now—at this moment, there’s a part of me that feels betrayed by you. Right or wrong, justified or not—I feel what I feel. And I need to try to overcome that away from you.”
He stood up. “I understand. Just let me get my things.”
I nodded. “After that, go see Jase. Be sure he understands that you’re still there for him.”
He started leaving the room, but then stopped. “I leave Wednesday morning. Will I see you before then?”
“I don’t know, Eric,” I said, brushing a tear from my eye. “I just don’t know anything with certainty right now—except that I have a very confused son and a big decision to make about an innocent little girl.”
A/N: Sigh. Well—this chapter was a hard one to write for me. Please don’t hate Sookie for wanting to take a bit of time away from Eric. I think it’s a natural response for the way I’ve characterized her in this piece. She is—certainly—a more mature and honest person than in the novels/show, but she’s still human. I think it’s good that she was upfront with Jase—and with Eric—about her feelings following this bomb that was handed to her. Do I wish that she wasn’t sending Eric away? Of course. But I understand why she did; the sucky part is the timing of everything—with Eric due to go overseas soon.
Update: This piece has only two chapters and an epilogue left—so it’s almost at its end. The bumps—I promise—are almost over. Now—onto some good news! The Engine will be returning tomorrow! I have seven weeks’ worth of chapters “in the bank,” and I’m going to be working on it as much as the muse and time let me so that I can—hopefully—get it completed so that there are no more interruptions. I hate that I’ve had to hit the “pause” button on that one a few times now. Fingers crossed that—as of tomorrow—I’ll be able to get one chapter to you per week with no more interruptions.
Please leave a comment on this chapter if you have the time and/or inclination.
All the best,