“Once you love, you cannot take it back, cannot undo it; what you felt may have changed, shifted slightly, yet still remains love. You still feel—though very small—the not-altogether unpleasant shock of soul recognition for that person.”
―Whitney Otto, How to Make an American Quilt
Hunter felt her before he saw her—thanks to the distinctiveness of her mind.
A beautiful mind he’d become as familiar with as he was his own—a mind that always welcomed his.
He sighed as he took her in—both physically and mentally.
She was so beautiful, dressed in her cap and gown. A sash of yellow around her neck indicated that she was graduating with honors, and her blue collar signified that she was a member of the National Honor Society. In addition, a blue cord showed that she was the Salutatorian of the class.
Hunter sat up a little straighter. He was so proud of his girl—his woman now.
Under her cap, her brunette hair curled down her back in lazy waves, which Hunter knew were natural.
And so goddamned soft it almost made him cry.
He was very aware of the amount of time it took Emma to get ready for her days, and it was about five minutes less than he took. But—in his defense—Hunter always cited his bangs and the need to gel them to within an inch of their life.
His hair had never been what one could call “ruly.”
On the other hand, Emma was lucky. She could shower and brush her hair and then just let it dry on its own. An hour later, it would look like she’d stepped out of a salon. In addition, she never wore a stich of makeup—unless one counted the flavored lip gloss that she liked to use to tease him with.
Her current flavor of choice was strawberry.
God, how he loved strawberries!
Hunter had to stifle his groan as his watched Emma’s curves during her walk onto the stage. His dad gave him a knowing look, which Hunter immediately shut down with a warning glare. His dad, who was still pretty much the coolest being in Hunter’s world, gestured in surrender and went back to holding his mom, who was also pretty damned cool in Hunter’s book.
Hunter smiled at his parents. He couldn’t imagine two people more in love than they were, and they were his example every day of how he needed to treat his own beloved.
He looked back up at the stage, knowing that Emma would be giving her speech right after the principal gave his standard opening remarks. Hunter had been attending graduations ever since his friends—starting with Coby—began to graduate. He smiled over in the direction of his friend as the principal droned on.
He’d always looked up to Coby, even though the two had sometimes had a bit of a rivalry. Hunter knew that his dad and mom had paid part of Coby’s college tuition after he’d hurt his knee during his senior year and had lost his baseball scholarship to LSU. And Hunter had never begrudged the fact that his parents had shown Coby interest; after all, Coby had been his very first “kid” friend in Bon Temps!
That being said, Hunter had still thrived on their little rivalry, which had started when they were quite young—when Hunter was about 6 and Coby 11. They’d both loved fishing and would always try to outdo one another for the biggest catch of the day.
Then, their rivalry had moved on to sports. Coby had been an excellent baseball player, earning all kinds of records for the Bon Temps team and leading them to their first state tournament. Hunter had come along years later and had broken those records.
In addition to baseball, both Coby and Hunter had excelled in science, though Hunter could admit that Coby certainly had him “beat” in that arena. Hell—Coby was set to become a millionaire at age 23 because of his discoveries! In addition, Coby was more ambitious, wanting to take the world by storm. Meanwhile, Hunter was content to settle in Bon Temps.
Darkening their friendly competitions, Hunter had once worried that Coby wanted Emma for his own, but that interest hadn’t lasted after Coby went away to college. Thank God! Hunter had once enjoyed the slight rivalry that he and Coby shared, for it was almost as if he had an older brother at times. And—due to his past—Hunter liked any kind of family he could get!
But—with Emma—Hunter would never suffer any kind of competition. Nor would Emma where he was concerned, and that was the way Hunter liked it!
She belonged to him—just as he was completely hers.
Emma no longer being an issue, Hunter could once again relax around his friend. In fact, no longer feeling the need to compete with his older “sibling figure,” Hunter simply felt proud of Coby’s accomplishments.
“And now—Miss Emma Merlotte, our Salutatorian!” Hunter heard Principal Williams say.
As Emma rose and went to the center of the stage, Hunter couldn’t help the fact that a loud sigh escaped from his lips. She was so damned beautiful, and Hunter knew every curve that her robe covered.
Well—at least—almost every curve.
There were a couple more that he couldn’t wait to explore!
Hunter felt his heart beat quicken and his pants tighten.
His dad gave him another look, and although Hunter would never regret the fact that Eric Northman was his father, he did sometimes dislike the fact that his dad was a vampire—a vampire who was able to discern every time he felt aroused by his girlfriend—which was pretty much all the time!
But what straight adolescent boy with a gorgeous girlfriend could say any different?
At least his sissy, Pam, wasn’t there to tease him. Thankfully, his dad had banned her from the event.
As Emma began speaking, Hunter got a little lost. Her voice was the perfect mixture of lightness and sultriness, and her eyes locked upon his several times as they ostensibly swept over the crowd. Hunter had heard her speech a hundred times, as she’d practiced in the treehouse he’d build for them when they were thirteen and fourteen respectively. They were now—perhaps—too old for a tree house, but it was their private zone, and they’d gotten a lot of mileage out of it, even with their guards omnipresent.
Thinking of Emma’s guard, Hunter took a second to make sure that Clovache was close enough to his beloved. He sighed when he saw that she was. No one had ever tried to attack Emma directly, but Hunter was ever-vigilant about making sure that one of the three Britlingens living on the ætt land was always with her.
Assured of Emma’s safety, Hunter smiled and let himself slip back into his memories of his beloved. Indeed, they’d shared a lot of wonderful times in their treehouse. And—yes—that had included a lot of physical explorations. But the two of them had also talked about everything up there.
And the most important of those discussions?
Two years before, they’d decided—while lazing on the familiar planks of the treehouse and studying the stars—to get married. Hunter already had a ring picked out and in his dresser. He planned to ask Emma on his eighteenth birthday.
They had also decided upon other things while in the treehouse. They were both going to be starting at LSU in the fall. Hunter would be studying chemistry and business, while Emma was going to be studying art history. Hunter wanted to become a part of his dad and Grandpa Niall’s business—RBL (their synthetic/fairy blood business)—after he graduated, and Emma wanted to become a high school art teacher.
Both Hunter and Emma were very firm about wanting to stay close to their roots and families—close to home. And they eventually wanted to settle on the ætt land; of course, unbeknownst to Emma, Hunter knew that their parents were planning to have a house built just for them on the newest patch of land that his mom and dad had added to their property, which now encompassed about two hundred acres. Of course, Hunter wasn’t supposed to know about their soon-to-be-built house either, but it was difficult to keep “big” things from a telepath.
As Emma shared a secret smile with Hunter as she spoke, the young man had to stifle a groan.
In the treehouse was also where Hunter had learned about passion—with Emma leading the way. Luckily for Hunter, his dad had always been open about the issue of sex, and he’d learned a lot about treating a girl like a queen by watching how his dad treated his mom. Plus, he was literally surrounded by other good examples. There were Uncle Lafayette and Uncle Jesus, Miranda and Jarod, Uncle Jason and Aunt Jessica, Uncle Duncan and Batanya, Uncle Claude and Hadley (Hunter’s birth-mother), Uncle Henry and Aunt Tara, and Alcide and Maria-Star. And Sam and Luna were a pretty kick-ass example, too.
In fact, the only person whom Hunter couldn’t really look to for love advice was his sissy, Pam. Hunter never knew from one minute to the next if she was with Molly or not! And Hunter was not naïve. He knew that his sissy had a lot of “fun” with people she met at Fangtasia.
So—yes—Hunter and Emma were lucky in the number of good examples who surrounded them. And they were lucky that their parents were willing to talk to them about matters like sex. (Well—except for Sam, who liked to think that Emma was still a little girl most of the time.)
In fact, when Hunter and Emma were thirteen and fourteen respectively, they’d been sat down by both sets of their parents, and a long talk about sex had ensued. Basically, their parents had talked them into waiting until they were both eighteen before they had sex.
Back then, they’d not been ready for sex anyway, so promising had been easy; neither he nor Emma had hesitated.
Hunter shook his head a little—ruefully.
Hunter had come to realize that his thirteen-year-old self had made a promise that his seventeen-year-old body was having a difficult time keeping. But he and Emma were trusted to keep that promise by all of their parents. And neither of them wanted to break that trust. Thankfully, after the first French kiss that Emma had ever laid upon him—which had left him in a daze—his dad and he had had a talk about masturbation, something that Hunter had become more and more skilled at from his extensive practice throughout the years.
Meanwhile, he and Emma kept their touching of each other confined to rules that they had set for themselves, and the treehouse afforded them privacy. In fact, all of their parents—including Sam—had agreed that a privacy spell could be raised around it. And his and Emma’s guards agreed to always stay outside of the spell’s confines unless there was some immediate danger.
The rules that he and Emma had made for themselves were simple. Clothing from the waist down had to stay on; they wanted to see each other completely nude for the first time when they had sex for the first time. However, clothing above the waist had been “removable” since Emma’s eighteenth birthday. Hunter felt himself getting a little flush as he looked at the curves in the upper part of Emma’s graduation gown.
Hunter had enough experience seeing women in bikinis to know that Emma’s breasts were not overly large compared to others’, but they weren’t small either. To Hunter, they were pretty much perfect.
He sighed again and felt the need to readjust in his seat. In addition to seeing Emma’s beautiful upper body, their “rules” stated that hands and mouths could be used above the waist. Hunter intended to use both later that night after Emma’s graduation party on the ætt land. On the other hand, only hands could be used below the waist, and those hands could be placed only above clothing. However, right before Emma had turned eighteen, his dad had explained to Hunter—confidentially, of course—that there were a lot of ways to make sure that his beloved was very happy with just his hands.
And with the grinding of other parts of this body—which was NOT against the rules.
Hunter again shifted in his seat as he thought about his girlfriend’s hands and what she could do with them. Whenever Emma touched him over his jeans or shorts, he was always left very, very happy. In fact, he’d had to start keeping fresh clothing up in the tree house so that he could change after Emma’s touching was over.
So—yes—sticking to the rules had been difficult, but Hunter was glad that he and Emma had decided to do just that. Hunter wanted their first time to be special, and he didn’t want them to have to hide the fact that they’d had sex either!
Not believing that sex should be seen as a bad thing, his dad had taught Hunter that physical love was natural and should be celebrated. And Hunter intended to do just that—as soon as he was eighteen.
However, until the next March—which, at the moment, seemed way too far away—he was content to keep doing what he’d been doing with Emma.
Frustrated, but content.
Hunter shook himself out of his musings about sex with difficulty (after all, he was a teenaged male), and he focused back on Emma’s words. He’d heard them so often that he began to mouth them with her, and he was able to tell where every inflection would be, though she still managed to sound quite natural.
Hunter couldn’t contain his wide, proud smile as Emma finished her speech with a look of triumph right in his direction. As always, he blushed a little as her expression shifted to that special smile reserved only for him.
And she blushed right back as he stood and whistled, which encouraged the others in their “family” group to stand up and clap as well.
Emma shook her head as if to chide them all and then motioned for them to sit down so that the choir could begin their song.
Hunter watched Emma move back to her seat with the grace of the cheetah that she’d been shifting into since her adolescence began.
Hunter would never forget the first time he’d seen her in that form. They’d been hanging out around the fire. Luna and Sam liked to come to the ætt land to run at the full moon since there was so much room and it was completely safe for them there. Hunter loved to watch all the two-natured people he loved take their animals forms, so he was always allowed to stay up a bit later on full-moon nights.
At the time, Emma had yet to shift, so they usually just sat around the fire with his mom and dad while they waited for the others to return, but one month before Emma’s fourteenth birthday, she suddenly began to shimmer a little. And then—just like that—she was sitting before him as a beautiful cheetah! She’d literally left him dumbstruck in that moment—not that she didn’t amaze him on a daily basis (even back then).
Emma and he had talked many times about what she would be when she finally shifted, but—in the end—she’d decided not to try to influence the change. According to Luna, a shifter would assume his or her most “natural” shape the first time he or she shifted. Luna’s first shift had been into a horse, which was still her preferred shape. Sam’s had been a dog, which he usually still ran in. Jarod’s had actually been a dingo, but he now changed into a lion because of Miranda.
And—of course—Emma’s biological father had been a Were, so it was possible that she would take that form, whether she herself was a Were or a shifter.
The look on Emma’s cheetah face had matched an expression that not very many had seen on the little human girl’s face before. Emma was naturally a confident person, but she had told Hunter every one of her anxieties and fears—just as he’d done with her. So Hunter knew every single look she had, and the look of trepidation—of needing to be accepted—which had been on her face right after her first transformation had threatened to twist Hunter’s heart to shreds.
Hunter hated that look on his Emma, so he’d moved quickly to get rid of it. Though he sensed that his parents were a little afraid that Emma might not be able to control herself in her animal form, Hunter knew better from the look in her eyes. He’d sunk to his knees before the adolescent cheetah and had raised his hand to her cheek. Her eyes had softened, and she’d leaned her head into his hand, purring loudly.
God—how Hunter had loved her in that moment of trust between them. The rest of the world could have fallen away, and neither of them would have noticed.
But no matter how lovely Emma was in her cheetah form, his favorite moments were the ones where they were lying on the quilts he’d put down for them in the treehouse. They could look up at the stars since he and his dad had put in a removable roof.
And they always lay quietly together for a long time after they had finished touching one another—something they already referred to as making love, despite the fact that they’d not yet had intercourse.
They would leave their shirts off so that they could feel each other’s warmth and flesh. Emma would snuggle into his chest—which had been made strong by years of sword practice with his father. Or on cooler nights, they would snuggle under the quilts with him spooning her body. In either case, the scent of her hair—like jasmine on a summer’s breeze—encompassed him.
And—after a while of silence—they would always talk about their plans for the future: the wedding they would have in just over a year, the children they hoped to have together (and when they wanted to start having them), the places they wanted to travel, and how they were going to keep safe through it all.
Hunter had a vague memory from when he was five or six—from the time after he’d come to live with his dad but before his mom had returned from the Fae world. In the memory, the A.P.—his now-deceased Grandma Brit—said something about his future being bright and containing more love than sorrow. She had also said that he would one day find a great love—but that he would have to earn it.
Hunter did everything he could—every day—to make sure he was worthy of Emma’s love. But part of him worried that he’d not yet had to “earn” that love as Grandma Brit had said he would need to.
“Min son?” his dad said, looking at him with a little worry in his brilliant blue eyes. Hunter was one of the few that his dad showed his “real” eyes to, and Hunter had always found love in them. Now he found concern, too. He swore that sometimes his dad was the one with telepathy when it can to him and Mom.
“I’m fine,” Hunter assured as the names of the graduates began to be called. There were only thirty-two graduates in their little community that year, so it wouldn’t take them long to get to “Merlotte.”
Hunter looked back down toward where Emma sat and saw that she was looking up at him again, and in that moment every single one of his own worries went right out the window.
A/N: So—I hope you enjoyed hearing from the “near”-adult Hunter. I imagined what the young Hunter from Come Back to Me would have grown up to be like with our Eric as a father and our Sookie as a mother. And then I knew. He would be family-centric and confident, but he would also be kind. I think I love this character to the point that I might have created as him “too good.” But he does have some flaws, including being too trusting. Anyway, I hope you will tell me what you think about Hunter. I’ve never done anything like this story—aging a child to an adult like this. I was really hoping—during these first two chapters—to show two very different young men.
I also wanted to write a note about the “sex decision” by Emma and Hunter. Honestly, I’m well aware that many young people have sex before they are 18 nowadays, and I don’t think that 18 is a magic number either. Some people are ready earlier. Some aren’t ready until later (I was 19, by the way—and, even then, I made a bad choice and wish I would have waited until later). I just advocate that no one allow pressure to make his/her decision for him/her. However, to make sure that I don’t get in trouble on the sites that I post on, I made the choice that Hunter and Emma would not go all the way until they are both 18. And—honestly—I think this is a good choice for them.
Many thanks to Sephrenia and Kleannhouse as always! Y’all are the best team a “girl” could ask for.