NOTE: The following chapter occurs THREE YEARS after the previous.
NOTE: “Bravo Zulu” is more of a Naval expression than one used in the Marines—at least, that’s what my friend told me. Still, it worked perfectly for this epilogue. The phrase conveys “job well done.”
August 26, 2014 • 2200 hours / 10:00 p.m.
“You and Maddy stay right here—in this waiting room—until Lafayette gets here. He and Jesús should be here in ten minutes. Okay?” I asked, trying not to let my nervousness show.
“Sure, Dad,” Jason assured. “And really. Don’t worry. I already texted Dr. Claudine, and she’s not here, but remember Nurse Indira?”
I nodded. “Of course.” I recalled her vividly from when Sookie and Jason had spent so many weeks in the hospital.
“Well—knowing Mom would be less freaked out if we had someone with us—despite the fact that I’m fifteen,” he emphasized with a roll of his expressive blue eyes, “Claudine’s sending Indira down to sit with us till everyone else gets here. Make sure Mom knows—okay?”
“You are awesome!” I smiled proudly at my son before rising to my feet. Even as I did, Nurse Indira hurried in.
I spent about five seconds greeting and thanking her before I went in the direction the orderly had taken Sookie in.
Okay—I didn’t just “go.” I ran!
Mentally, I said a little “fuck you” to Appius. Sure—running indoors wasn’t something I encouraged my own children to do, though I certainly never beat them or verbally berated them if they did run in the house. Things like “time outs” were employed. However, occasionally, running indoors was called for. Now was one of those times.
“Sookie Northman?” I asked a nurse at the nursing station.
She took in my appearance and chuckled.
“Come on, Dad,” she emphasized, likely having seen my frazzled appearance on many a new father’s face before. “Sookie’s just gotten into her gown. I put scrubs on the chair for you to change into,” she said.
“Will I need those?” I asked nervously.
“Only if the doctor says a C-section is best. According to Mrs. Northman’s file, the baby’s big. And she’s small. I like to make sure that you’ll be good to go—no matter what,” she added matter-of-factly, before leading me to my wife.
Sookie smiled at me from the bed, and I quickly walked over to her to take her hand.
“So—are you ready for this, Captain?” she asked as another nurse hooked her up to some machines that would monitor the baby during the labor process.
I shook my head, but then nodded.
The nurses both chuckled. Again, I was sure that they saw new fathers make such motions all the time.
Not that I was a new father. I’d been the proud father—according to the State of Louisiana—of Jason and Maddy since I’d adopted them both on the heels of Sookie and my wedding two years before. Maddy had taken “Northman” as her last name. It was a little sad that she’d had no interest in keeping her mother’s last name, which Lorena had put on Maddy’s birth certificate. Apparently, Lorena hadn’t wanted to give Maddy “Compton” as a surname, though she had named Bill as the child’s father.
Maddy had been given the choice of keeping the last name “Ball,” changing her name to Compton, or changing it to Northman. She’d opted for my name. Jason was also given a choice: between Northman and Compton. I made sure that Jason understood that I didn’t mind him staying a Compton at all. His grandparents, I knew, were against his name change—since Jason was the last Compton in the line. But Sookie and I had made sure that Jason could make an independent decision.
Except that Jessica had weighed in. She liked “Compton” best.
I liked to think that my son had also preferred that name, but—given the lengths that my fifteen-year-old went to in order to please Jessica—he might have made the choice with her in mind.
Jason was my child according to the law. But, more importantly, he’d already been mine long before that.
He’d also been my best man at Sookie and my wedding—after he’d walked his mother down the aisle to me.
Holding Sookie’s hand and looking at her beautiful, sweaty face, I knew that I had been lying to myself when I’d thought that my wedding day would be the best day of my life. No—every day since then had proven to be the “best.” And I didn’t think there would be a word to adequately describe where this particular day would rank.
The woman in front of me had taught me how to love. She’d taught me that I was worth loving. And—now—she was giving me yet another child to love.
No—there wasn’t a word for that beyond her name: Sookie.
“Everything looks great. You’re dilated to six already!” the nurse said. “The doctor will be in to check you out soon.”
Just then, Dr. Ludwig walked into the room, even as Sookie began experiencing another contraction.
“Wait! I’m not here for my brain!” Sookie yelled out. “I’m havin’ a baby!”
Dr. Ludwig chuckled. “Don’t worry. I remember the logistics at this end of the body well enough. Your OBGYN is currently out of the state at a conference. And the on-call doctor in this department is already working with three mothers. And,” she said with a sly smile, “when I heard you were in the hospital, I volunteered to help you out.”
“Fine,” Sookie huffed. “But be nice to me. I’m in pain!”
“When am I not nice?” Dr. Ludwig asked.
“Always,” Sookie and I muttered at the same time.
Ludwig just laughed. Don’t get me wrong, Sookie and I owed the diminutive doctor so much. But her bedside manner truly was horrible—except with Jason.
Still, I was comforted that she was there. She checked Sookie out and declared that things looked good for a natural birth. Just in case, however, I quickly changed into the scrubs.
And then the waiting began as Sookie’s labor slowed down a bit after her epidural.
Apparently, that wasn’t abnormal, so I didn’t go crazy with worry.
And—yes—I was worried to see Sookie in pain. But I’d never met a stronger woman, and she didn’t seem worried at all.
I tried to stay calm for her.
And I let her squeeze my hand as hard as she needed. That was an expectant father’s job, after all. That—and to tell his wife that she was doing awesome and that she looked beautiful.
And Sookie did. Indeed, she’d never looked more radiant to me—not even when she’d waited for me in an ice blue wedding gown.
I smiled at the memory of her in—and out—of her wedding wear.
I couldn’t help but to think about Sookie and my journey as a couple.
I could remember vividly the moment when I’d stepped off the plane after my first training mission to Afghanistan. She’d been beaming brighter than the sun that summer day! And having Jason and Maddy there only added to my joy! I’d never forget scooping up Maddy for the first time.
In fact, each day gave me a memory I’d never forget. Of course, some stood out more—like the first time that Maddy decided that she should call me “Daddy.” Her reasoning had been that it sounded cool to say “Maddy and Daddy.” She’d added that she “loved” me as an afterthought to her reasoning. I smiled at the memory.
Jason made the choice to call me Dad about a year later, having worked with Claudine to overcome his fears of losing anyone with that designation. Honestly, it didn’t matter what my son and daughter called me. Their love for me would always be enough.
As soon as Sookie and I were officially living together, everything just seemed right—best. We rarely quarreled, though we retained plenty of passion for one another. Importantly, we made a point to communicate with each other any time we were upset by something. And we also made sure we had time for ourselves, too.
Pam had come to visit us several times. I know that her visits were at Sookie’s urging, but it had been clear to me that my sister enjoyed her time with us. She was now a young woman, and she was working on her medical degree. She’d wanted Sookie and me to film the birth and live-stream it to her.
Sookie had vetoed that.
With my family’s support, I’d decided to continue getting my Bachelor’s degree, though I was taking only two classes a semester. I had the luxury of not being in a hurry, and my priorities when it came to time were at home. Still, I enjoyed my classes.
Working only four days a week on the base, my commute was a minor nuisance at most. Lafayette was still my right-hand-man, and I was working on getting him another raise in rank. He certainly deserved it.
My work still kept me in Louisiana most of the time, though I would travel overseas about twice a year. There was the occasional trip to D.C. or another U.S. base to consult as well. The 8-9 weeks a year I spent away from home were hard, but—on occasion—I’d conduct training at a non-combat location. Sookie and the kids had already been able to fly to both Japan and Germany for part of the time when I’d been working there. That made the trips a lot more fun and less painful.
Speaking of pain, I cringed as Sookie had another contraction. I didn’t like to see her hurting, though I knew it was a natural part of the process.
I’d been so happy when she’d told me that we were expecting a child. We’d tried for almost a year before she conceived. In fact, we’d begun talking about seeing a fertility doctor when we learned about little Alexander.
His naming had been a family decision, though Sookie had veto power.
Alex had been a unanimous choice.
“Ready to push?” Dr. Ludwig asked at 0331 hours on August 27. I knew that because I looked at the clock, wanting to record the moment.
My wife nodded, her face contorted with pain.
“Okay—take a deep breath and then give me a big push on the next contraction. Don’t stop till I count to ten,” Dr. Ludwig commanded.
Sookie nodded again.
“Okay. Go!” Ludwig yelled out.
Sookie pushed with all of her might.
It took seven more pushes like that—during which I was blamed by everyone in the room for making the baby too big.
However, finally, the baby was born at 0404 hours.
It seemed as though life continued to have surprises in store for me, but I would be forever grateful that things hadn’t gone as Appius had once wanted for me. He would have made me live “his” version of my life, and I knew I would have been extremely unhappy—no matter how many gold medals or law cases I’d won.
The life I’d formed for myself in the years after my parents died had been better—to be sure. But I was still so new at and apprehensive about feelings that I’d lived a half-life in a lot of ways.
In most ways.
In one of my elective classes, Asian Literature, my teacher introduced the students to a Japanese poet name Matsuo Basho. I’d liked his poetry, so I’d studied more about him, even writing my term paper about his work. As I’d researched, I’d run across a quote by him, “Every day is a journey, and the journey itself is home.”
His words seemed perfect to me—wise and true.
The journey of my life had been a winding one, and—to be frank—I’d “existed” in my life rather than “lived” in it for a long time. But because of Sookie and Jason—and Maddy and now little Alex—I’d truly begun my days of journeying.
And I’d found home.
A/N: Well—that’s it, folks! I really hope that you enjoyed this piece. I will admit that I shed a lot of tears when writing this one. For those of you who stick with me despite hating angst, I hope that this ending paid off for you. The ending lines I wrote always choke me up—as does the quote by Matsuo Basho. It seemed perfect for this story—this Eric and Sookie—and it even generated the title of the story.
For those of you who are sorry to see this story go, I’m sorry to report that I’m not planning a sequel at this time. I’m content to let this family continue their journey on their own.
Please let me know what you thought of the story. I love hearing whether or not you like the endings of things.
For those of you with me for The Engine, you can expect the next chapter on Sunday.
Thanks again to Kleannhouse, who betas my work for me, and Sephrenia, who designs the story artwork I use. Thanks also to all of you who are still reading my work! Writing fanfiction continues to be my favorite pastime, and you all make my life better by reading and responding.
All the best,