NOTE: The following chapter occurs TWENTY-THREE DAYS after the previous.
Friday, August 26 • 1300 hours / 1:00 p.m.
I was pensive, but excited—bouncing up and down on my feet.
Jesús was standing right next to me, his energy similar to mine. He was holding my hand.
Unfairly, he wouldn’t be able to greet Lafayette with as much fervor as I planned to greet Eric. But I had it on good authority—as in “T.M.I.” authority—that Jesús would be driving Lafayette straight to his house, which was about ten minutes away. And—there—Jesús planned to do “very naughty things” to Lafayette.
Despite not needing to hear the details, I was happy for Jesús and Lafayette. And I was jealous of them.
Sure—I would be able to kiss the breath out of Eric as soon as he deplaned. But I would have to wait a lot longer than ten minutes to complete the list of very, very, very naughty things that I wanted to do to him.
Not to mention the even naughtier things I hoped he’d be doing to me.
I had a mental list that was twenty-three days in the making!
Unable to hold in my blush entirely, I sighed. But then my thoughts shifted, and I smiled as I watched the reasons why I would have to show some constraint.
The two reasons.
Jase and Maddy were running around like little tornadoes, smiling and laughing as if they’d grown up all their lives together.
I shook my head. No—not “Jase.” With becoming a big brother, my son had finally made it known that he was ready to be called “Jason” by everyone—not just Eric, who had had that honor for almost a year.
I wouldn’t lie and say that I’d not been a little jealous of that distinction that Eric had enjoyed. But I’d respected Jason’s need to pick the name he wanted to be called, as well as who got to call him what. It made sense that Eric—his dad during the most important moments of this life—was the first to be granted permission to use the more grown-up name.
Two weeks before, as we’d had a large group over to the house to celebrate Madison’s official arrival to her new home—after she’d had a week to settle in, of course—Jason had announced to the group that “big brothers should have big brother names.” And—spurred on by him—Madison had announced, though much more shyly, that she wanted to have a nickname since she’d never gotten to have one.
That day, “Jase” became Jason. And “Madison” became Maddy.
I just wished that Eric had been there to see it, though—I learned later—that Jase—no, Jason (I was still getting used to calling him that, especially in my thoughts)—had discussed the issue with him via Skype.
“Will Eric like me?” a little voice asked from next to me.
Maddy was tugging at my skirt, looking up at me with large, anxious eyes. She was a slender girl—dainty even. Thus, I was able to pick her up rather easily. “He already does. Remember how you two have talked on Skype?”
She nodded, biting her lip. I’d already discovered that she did that every time she was nervous, though—because of Kendra Jones, her nanny when she’d been with Lorena—Maddy had grown up a very happy child.
Her red hair and facial expressions really did make her look like Sophie-Anne, whom she’d met, along with William, the weekend before when they’d traveled down from Annapolis to see her. The DNA test had already confirmed what we could see with our eyes.
Madison—Maddy—was Bill’s daughter.
I’d been able to tell that the Comptons were ashamed of their son due to his having a long-term affair and illegitimate child. Actually, they seemed mostly concerned that his actions had been found out—not that he’d done them.
However, I did feel bad for Sophie-Anne. And I’d believed her when she’d pulled me aside to communicate just how sorry she was that Bill had caused me pain.
Now over ninety percent recovered from her stroke, Sophie-Anne moved, once again, with extreme grace, her cane more of an accessory than anything else. Her words no longer slurred either, though, at times, it took her a moment or two to search for them. However, for the most part, she was back to being herself—leaps and bounds better than the last time Jason and I had seen her, which had been a quick trip to visit the Comptons the previous March. And now she had to deal with the stress of learning her son had been unfaithful to his wife and had produced an illegitimate child. Bill had been “perfect” in her eyes; clearly, she’d been shaken to discover that her vision had been as faulty as my own.
Still, Sophie-Anne had managed to carry herself with great dignity and refinement. And Maddy hadn’t been able to sense any reservations at all on her part.
William had been a different story, focusing much more on Jason—as if Maddy wasn’t a “true” grandchild of his. I’d lost a lot of respect for him when I’d learned that he had encouraged Bill to seek out a prostitute’s tutelage before he and I got married. I lost even more when the progression of that bad behavior had produced something—someone—William didn’t want to acknowledge.
Did I blame William for Bill’s affair with Lorena? Heck no! Bill was responsible for his own choices! However, William had put Bill on a path that allowed him to believe that going to a brothel to lose his virginity would be a good thing. Bill had lied to me about that; I sometimes wondered if that first lie had paved the way for all to come.
A part of me also wondered if William might have some illegitimate children of his own running around. If so, I hoped that Sophie-Anne would never find out. Though I’d initially blasted Eric for keeping the truth from me, I’d learned that there were some secrets that were best kept in the dark. However—truth be told—I didn’t believe that Sophie-Anne would leave William even if he’d had affairs or fathered children with other women. She’d defined her life around him; that had been her choice.
If Bill were still alive, I just hoped that I would have made a different choice had I found out about his infidelity. I hoped that that choice wouldn’t have been purposeful blindness or unquestioned acceptance.
One thing that I would never regret was the introduction of Maddy into our lives. No—she was worth any pain I’d felt from Bill’s sins and secrets.
“He’s gonna love you—just like I do,” I whispered to my little girl.
Yes—I already thought of her as mine. And it didn’t matter how she’d come to be that way.
A lawyer that Eric knew in Long Beach, Mr. Cataliades, was currently working with Lorena’s lawyer, Neave Faeman, in San Diego to push through the adoption. Lorena’s failing health and her shark-like lawyer were enough to spur on the judge in the case. I already had Maddy provisionally, having been declared her legal guardian. Lorena’s Will now reflected my guardianship as well. And—just in case the adoption wasn’t final before she died—Lorena’s wishes that I adopt Maddy were clearly spelled out in the Will as well. However, I knew I’d feel better if the adoption could go through before Lorena died. Maybe it made me a bad Christian that I wanted Lorena to cling to life only long enough to sign the adoption papers and that I didn’t care what happened to her after that, but so be it.
Actually, that was a lie; I did sort of care. As a human being, I didn’t want Lorena to suffer. After all, I didn’t believe that she was ultimately at fault for Bill’s affair. No matter how tempting or seductive she’d been, Bill had made his own choices.
Plus, to the unpleasant woman’s credit, Lorena seemed to have Maddy’s adoption as her one remaining goal. Yes—I had to give her acknowledgement for that.
The last I knew, Lorena was practically bed-bound. And, based on the size of the trust fund left for Maddy, I figured she could afford top-of-the-line in-home medical care, though she had no family to take care of her.
Karma really had come back to bite Lorena. At least, all the money she’d manipulated and blackmailed out of people was helping her to die as comfortably as possible.
I held my little girl a little closer as I thought about her final goodbye with her biological mother. They’d not even hugged. Maddy had been a lot more upset when she’d learned that Kendra was leaving with Lorena.
In confidence, Kendra had told me that she’d considered moving to Louisiana and opening up a daycare center—just so that she could continue to be a part of Maddy’s life. I wouldn’t have been opposed to her continued inclusion in my daughter’s world, but—ultimately—Kendra had decided to return to San Diego, where she had a lot of family and better opportunities to continue working as a private nanny. Still, she had called several times to check on Maddy.
Lorena had called once—but not to talk to Maddy. She’d given me updated contact information for her lawyer and then hung up.
I gave Maddy butterfly kisses. She giggled and wiggled so I let her down, and then she was off like the little light that she was, chasing Jason.
I’d worried because she’d been so reserved with Jason and me at first. Kendra had told me that Lorena had behaved quite formally with Maddy, but she’d assured me that the child would “warm up quickly” and “become more herself.”
The nanny had been right; it had taken Maddy only a few days of being at the farmhouse before her smile lit up the place.
Eric and I had decided that we’d turn Jason’s old bedroom on the second floor of the farmhouse into Maddy’s, while Jason would stay on the first floor, though he now had no problem whatsoever with the stairs. It made sense though. Jason had grown to like having his room on the ground floor. And Eric and I thought that Maddy should be closer to us anyway. I was just glad that the walls in the house were thick so that Eric and I wouldn’t have to worry about our new daughter hearing what we’d be getting up to later.
I blushed again as I thought of the man I loved.
If anything, we’d gotten closer while he’d been away.
As promised, his time in Afghanistan had been spent as safely as possible. To make me feel slightly less concerned, he’d told me that a few generals and a Congressional delegation had traveled with him and Lafayette for a few days. Apparently, that was a sign that the situation was about as safe as somewhere like Afghanistan could be.
He and Lafayette had even managed to do a bit of sightseeing, though they’d done it in civvies with Afghani guides that Eric knew and trusted from his previous tours in the country. They’d traveled to Herat, where one of the guides was from, and they’d seen what Westerners called the Friday Mosque. The pictures were amazing, though I’d been nervous for Eric the whole time he’d been sightseeing.
However, according to Eric, the vast majority of the people in Afghanistan were quite kind and—though somewhat suspicious of foreigners because of their long history with invaders of one variety or another—”regular folks” tended to like Americans just fine.
Still, I was scared for them until they were back at the base. And—of course—I was scared for them even now, as we waited for the plane.
I figured that worry was a part of being any kind of wife when a husband traveled. And soldiers’ wives had it a lot worse than others.
Was I ready to do that again?
Yes. For Eric Northman, I was—without reservations.
I smiled to myself, even as a still-bouncing Jesús grabbed my hand again. I didn’t know exactly when I would become Mrs. Eric Northman, but I knew it was going to happen.
Until then, he and I would be living together. There would be no more base residence and farmhouse commuting, though Eric had decided to keep the base house as long as it wasn’t needed for another soldier. Practically, he knew there might be long days and nights every now and then when he’d need to crash there. And Jason had his friends on base, so we might even spend the night there as a family every once in a while, so that we could go to a base function or host a little barbeque there.
What mattered was that Eric and I had agreed that we would be living apart only when he was overseas. Indeed, Colonel Flood had given me a key to the base house just so that I could pack up most of Eric’s things and bring them to the farmhouse—with Eric’s knowledge, of course. I just didn’t want to wait until he got home to move him back home. And he’d indulged me.
His things were already in the closet in the master bedroom—our bedroom.
One of the reasons we decided not to even pretend to have different homes anymore was for Maddy’s sake. We didn’t want her to be confused. And—though Eric wouldn’t be able to adopt her until we were married since that would have made the process too complicated to get done as quickly—we didn’t want her to ever be confused about Eric’s place in our family.
Maddy might never decide to call me “Momma” or Eric “Daddy,” but that’s what we were going to be to her. It had warmed my heart one night to overhear Jason speaking to Maddy about Eric and his place in his life. He’d shared that he was really not “just Uncle Eric,” though that’s what Maddy had heard Jason call Eric, of course. Jason had clarified that Eric was the “most awesome dad of all time.”
I’d smiled until it hurt when I’d told Eric about that detail when we’d spoken via Skype later on. He had too, even as tears had glistened in his eyes.
I said a little prayer of thanksgiving for Skype, not knowing what I would have done without it the last several weeks. Because Eric’s schedule was pretty consistent, even in Afghanistan, he was able to schedule quite a few calls with us, speaking to us four or five times a week. I knew that was an advantage of his rank and position. And I felt bad for all of the other families that didn’t get as much contact with their soldiers. But I was still grateful for all I could get.
As promised, Eric’s first call to me had been when he had his layover in the Philippines. We’d spent two hours discussing Maddy. He’d been able to tell that I already wanted her with us. Just meeting her once, I’d known that she would fit with us. And I’d known that I could love her and never hold her mother or Bill’s affair against her. Those were the big tests for me.
Jason was on board too, saying it would be “cool” to have a little sister to look out for. Jessica had a little sister, and I knew that Jason had talked to his best friend/”girlfriend” about Maddy as well—so that he could learn the “job duties.”
Apparently, Jason was willing to do everything Jessica said he had to—except play with Barbie dolls. Jessica had amused the heck out of me by calling me to assure that she’d volunteer to do the “girly” big sister things when Jason couldn’t manage. Indeed, at the get-together we’d held at the farmhouse, Jessica had made sure that her own little sister, Eden, made friends with Maddy. The whole thing had been too cute for words.
Eric had been overwhelmed by the thought of taking in Maddy—at least, in a way—but I could tell that he would have been willing to take in Maddy, even if I hadn’t. He wouldn’t have tried to get me to change my mind, but I would have always regretted not having her. It seemed somehow appropriate, though, that she joined our family in unusual circumstances, just as Eric had.
It was all good though. Indeed, it was right. And it gave me another item for my list of invaluable things from Bill. Now I had Jason, Eric, and Maddy.
Yes—instead of ruminating on Bill’s affair, I was counting my blessings.
I counted another as I heard the plane moments before I saw it. My heard leapt. Jason ran up to me—as did Maddy.
“Is that his plane?” my son asked excitedly.
I nodded. I was halfway to tears already and couldn’t really speak.
It took five minutes for the plane to circle and land. Then it was another few minutes for the plane to taxi to its resting place and for the engines to turn off.
More and more anxious by the second, I was just grateful that Colonel Flood had told Lafayette and Eric that they could debrief the next day, so Eric would be ours as soon as he deplaned.
Eric exited the plane almost as soon as the doors opened, looking for us. His face lit up as soon as he saw us, and I felt my feet flying toward him. I heard Jason and Maddy running after me, but I felt faster than Carl Lewis in that moment. Eric dropped his bag and rushed toward me, sweeping me up into his arms and holding me tight before he kissed me soundly.
I could hear both Jason and Maddy giggling.
After an all-too-short minute, Eric put me onto my feet and hugged Jason tightly before kneeling in front of Maddy.
“Hey there, little one,” he said with a smile that wouldn’t quit.
“Hi,” she said shyly. “You’re Uncle Eric. I talked to you on the computer.”
“Yes,” he confirmed.
“Okay. Cool!” she smiled back as him, reaching out her little hand.
He shook it gently.
“Wanna go home? Sookie’s makin’ roast in the crock pot, and it’s really good. I’ve had it already—last week,” she informed.
“Sounds good!” he enthused.
Looking toward where I’d parked, I saw Lafayette wave before he got into the car with Jesús. I frowned because they couldn’t show their love on the base.
“What’s wrong, beautiful?” Eric asked me. He’d slung his duffle bag and his computer bag over his shoulder and had managed to pick up Maddy into his other arm.
My frown couldn’t possibly have stayed on my face as I saw that she and he were both comfortable with the arrangement.
I motioned toward Jesús’s car, which was speeding away. “Just that they can’t kiss each other here like I just kissed you,” I commented softly.
He nodded in agreement and then took my hand with his free one. I took Jason’s.
And we walked to the van as a family.
A/N: Well—that’s the last chapter! Just the epilogue to go. I hope that you enjoyed the story and will visit one more time for the epilogue.
I loved writing this piece. This was one of those stories that took over my Muse, and I was able to write it quite quickly once I returned to it. I wish they could all be the same, but alas.
Please comment if you have the time and/or inclination.
Until the epilogue (which I hope to get to you tomorrow).