TEN YEARS LATER
“Momma?” seven-year-old Adele asked.
“Yes, honey?” Sookie responded as she tried to quiet eleven-month-old Caleb by bouncing him on her lap.
“How can Daddy sleep on his horse like that?” Adele asked as if exasperated.
“And why can’t I ride my horse?” Adele’s twin, Jason, asked.
“The trip is too long for a little boy to take a horse,” Adele said, mimicking the words that she had heard Grandpa Godric speak to her brother. Adele often conveniently forgot that she and Jason were the same age—save for about forty minutes.
“He has always been able to sleep almost anywhere,” Pamela chuckled at her nephew and niece.
Pamela had never married, choosing instead to focus her energy on reform movements—both for freed slaves and, more recently, for women. Secretly, she had told Eric and Sookie that she preferred the company of women to men, and she was working her way up to telling her parents. Certainly, the times would not allow her to live openly as the lover of another woman. However, given her money and position in society, Pamela had been able to have female “companions” without suspicions being raised. Her current “companion,” Hope, was traveling in the other carriage with Godric, Rose, Willa, and Sookie and Eric’s eldest child, eight-and-a-half-year-old Patricia, who had been named for the hard-ass doctor who had saved Eric’s life—when any other doctor would have decided he was a lost cause.
Sookie smiled out the window of the carriage, both at the man she grew to love more every day and at the trees that hearkened that they were drawing near to her old home.
She sighed. So much had changed following the war. Yet other things had stayed the same.
Jessie Compton had had a heart attack when a false report claiming that William had died reached him—ironically enough—two days before Eric had shot William. And, of course, Sookie’s brother, Jason, had been killed relatively early during the war in bloody Shiloh. And Michelle had died from her grief.
Other than that, the Stackhouses, the Comptons, and the Northmans had been incredibly lucky.
Eric and Godric had been reunited when Godric came to get his son from the field hospital. Dr. Ludwig had had quite a bit of fun needling “Mr. Bryant” about the odd change to his name.
Of course, by then, Sookie and Eric had confided the whole story to the woman they both valued so much.
Sookie had been able to leave with her beloved, given the fact that—by the time he was able to safely travel—Lee had long-since surrendered.
Sookie’s own feelings were mixed about the outcome of the war. She had been against slavery, but it was her part of the country that had lost. Moreover, no side had really won—not with the huge costs that had been felt by all.
At Godric’s home, they had been met by Rose, Pamela, Willa, and William, who’d had to stay in Boston since traveling to the South was still treacherous. The reunion between William and Eric had been initially awkward—to say the least—given the fact that the last time they had seen each other, they had both been pointing guns at one another.
But the awkwardness had gone away within a few days, and the two were soon acting like brothers again.
In fact, as soon as Eric was recovered enough and the railroad lines were relatively functional, William, Eric, and Sookie had traveled together to Louisiana—with Eric in his uniform up North so they would have fewer difficulties there and William putting on his uniform once they were in the South so they would have fewer difficulties there.
It had been an odd trip—to say the least.
With them had traveled Lorena, for—with Jessie gone—there were no objections to the match between William and her.
Sookie and Eric had been married twice—the first time in Boston with only Godric, Pamela, Willa, William, and Rose present. Then they had married again in the presence of Gran, Corbett, Caroline, Tara, Lafayette, and all of the freed men and women on both the Stackhouse and Compton estates.
Sookie smiled to herself. She would have married Eric even more times than that—if need be!
She smiled a little wider as her husband lolled a bit to the side on his horse. Even asleep, he still sat his mount beautifully. And, with age, he was getting more and more handsome to her eyes.
“Do you think Aunt Lorena will have her baby while we’re there?” Adele asked.
I nodded. “She is due to.”
Adele bounced excitedly and then went back to leading her brother in a game of rhymes.
Adele was as smart as a whip—very much like her namesake. Luckily, Jason was quite clever too—unlike the man for whom he had been named. Jason was the diplomat among the children and the peacekeeper among his sisters—and “Aunt” Willa. Thus, Jason usually went along with his somewhat pushy twin.
Just to keep her pacified.
Sookie smiled at her twins and then went back to her thoughts. She had never quite warmed to Lorena, but William seemed to love her, and that was what mattered. Lorena had given William four children, with a fifth one imminent. William liked to tease Eric that he was “one ahead” in the child department.
But Sookie had a bit of news which she was currently holding onto—until she was sure. Or until Gran saw her. Gran had the uncanny ability to tell when a woman was pregnant with a single glance.
And Adele Stackhouse, thankfully, was still going strong.
The Stackhouse and Compton families had finally been joined in matrimony—though, obviously not by Sookie and William. No—Caroline had married Corbett five years after she had been widowed.
Eric and Sookie had both been surprised at hearing the news, though they had agreed—after seeing the couple together—that the pairing was well-suited.
Godric had been delighted by both his sister’s increased happiness and his ability to call Corbett Stackhouse his brother.
Indeed, the Stackhouse and Northman families had become entwined, to the point that it was sometimes difficult to explain all of the relationships to the younger children!
Eric and William had eventually opened their law practice together—almost two years to the day after Abraham Lincoln’s assassination.
Their endeavor had struggled at first, but was now quite successful.
Sookie figured that their practice was likely the only one with offices in both the North and the South. They specialized in trade and commerce between the two regions, and they also worked hard to fight the nefarious elements that had arisen during Reconstructions, especially the Carpet Baggers and the embittered Southerners who took out their anger on freed slaves.
Caleb started crying in earnest as the carriage hit a particularly deep bump in the road.
Within moments, Eric was awake and guiding his horse so that he was right next to the carriage. He bent down and looked in the window.
“Want me to take him?” he asked.
Sookie smirked, knowing that—as soon as the baby was riding with his father—he would surely fall asleep.
She nodded and grinned at her husband.
Eric winked at her before giving her a look that indicated that he was aiming to see a lot more than her petticoats in the near future.
She was fine with that.
“Hold steady,” Eric told the carriage driver before bringing his horse even closer.
Sookie held her breath somewhat nervously as she passed Caleb to his father through the wide window. They had performed similar actions dozens upon dozens of times, but she was a mother, and they were supposed to worry—even if there was no need to.
Her husband’s steady hands took the boy and managed to brush against hers at the same time, causing her pulse to quicken.
Of course, the two had stopped wearing gloves years before.
He winked at her again before riding away from the carriage a little.
Caleb settled and began laughing and jabbering in his own language almost immediately after he was with his father. And Sookie leaned back against her own chair, just enjoying the sound of her husband’s voice as he explained something or other to his second-born son, despite the fact that Caleb was too young to understand.
It did not take long for the talking to quiet.
Sookie looked out the window and saw that Caleb was asleep in his father’s arms, though Eric was awake, attentively holding his son and looking down at him as if he were a miracle.
Eric always looked at their children like that. And he looked at her like that too.
She would never forget the day that he was brought into the hospital bleeding.
Even ten years after the war, he sometimes awoke from nightmares. So did she. Thankfully, however, they were not afraid or ashamed to cry in each other’s arms.
It was a miracle that he could still feel.
A miracle that he could still love.
A miracle that he could still smile in that way that made her heart leap.
Sookie thanked God that Eric was the kind of man who could go through horrors, yet still remain whole.
As if he could feel the heat of her gaze, he looked her way and smiled at her, his eyes lighting up as he did so.
Yes. He was her miracle, too.
And he would remain so.
A/N: Okie dokie! That’s all folks! I hope that you enjoyed this story and that you will leave me your comments!
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