Exactly six hours and three minutes earlier than Eric woke up, Hunter had gotten out of his bed with a mission for the day.
Hunter was an intelligent boy―naturally so. And that intelligence had been nurtured greatly during the previous year. He was also lucky that he got to spend so much time with people who were not humans. That meant that they were harder for him to hear—or, in the case of vampires, impossible for him to hear. That also meant that he had been able to hone his skills in reading people in ways other than with his telepathy. Moreover, for the first time in his life, he’d had a lot of time to concentrate on his own thoughts rather than those of other people.
Because of Miranda’s excellent tutelage, he was shining in his homeschooling. Despite only being six years old, he was reading better than most eleven-year-olds. He was soaking up Swedish quickly from his Uncle Eric, and he loved to solve the little logic problems and riddles Miranda and Jarod would give him. He was also good at working out puzzles on a three-dimensional level, and that ability was being fostered more and more by his working with his Uncle Eric in the workshop. Hunter was now able to understand and visualize how the pieces of wood would best fit together to be strong. At first, he’d mostly just watched his Uncle Eric, but then later, he’d begun to anticipate what his Uncle Eric would do next.
Of course, Hunter could not consciously understand his own mental development, nor could he gauge the growth in his self-worth over the past year. He simply knew that he liked the things he was doing and wanted to learn even more.
He was also learning to better use and control his telepathy. In the safe nest of his home, Miranda had him practice listening to the thoughts of the people around him―one at a time. He would then try to shut out those thoughts, and in his mind, Hunter pictured this shutting off like the building of a wooden box inside of his head. So it made sense that Hunter’s shields became stronger and stronger as he studied the process of wood work more and more.
Hunter loved the people around him very much, and he was delighted—though still somewhat surprised—every day to find that they all loved him back too.
He thought of Uncle Lala as his favorite “day person.” After Hunter had asked what a “mother fucker” was after he had heard it from Uncle Lala’s head and repeated it one day in front of Miranda, the Werelioness had acted quickly by making Hunter spend about an hour each day with Uncle Lala―with the task of building up his shields again Uncle Lala’s thoughts. Apparently—according to Miranda—Uncle Lala’s thoughts were too naughty for Hunter to hear and definitely too naughty for him to repeat.
Uncle Lala’s task during their “training sessions” was to think about the weather, but Uncle Lala had often had Hunter in stitches because of his thinking about funny things. Of course, Hunter had eventually learned to build up those boxes around Uncle Lala―encouraged in no small part by Uncle Lala himself―who said that Miranda was right to have him practice and even more right that he ought not to repeat naughty words he heard from people’s heads.
Still―whether Hunter was listening in on Uncle Lala’s thoughts or not―he loved him very much and was always kept smiling and laughing by him.
Hunter also loved Jesus a lot. He loved that he could hear Jesus thinking about how much he loved Uncle Lala all the time. And Jesus was really nice to him and had a very ‘busy’ head too. When he listened to Jesus, Hunter always heard him thinking about the stuff he was studying at the time and trying to figure new things out. And Jesus was always thinking about other people too―about what they needed and about how he could help them.
Jesus’s mind was harder to hear than Uncle Lala’s, but Hunter had not known why until one day when Uncle Lala was thinking about what Jesus looked like when he’d become a demon. Hunter picked up that image in his head, and from then on, he’d understood that part of Jesus was a whole different kind of creature, and he loved Jesus all the more for it. Hunter thought about how he and Jesus were alike. They both had a different kind of thing inside of them. He also heard from Jesus’s head that he liked learning about his demon heritage, so Hunter thought it might not be so bad to be part fairy―even though the fairies he’d met were really mean.
And Jesus also thought about Uncle Eric a lot and worried about him. Yes—Hunter liked Jesus because he knew that—just like him—he would do anything he could to take care of his Uncle Eric.
Hunter also loved his Uncle Jason a lot. By far, Uncle Jason was the day person he had the most fun playing with. Uncle Jason would always have a new game for them to play, and he took them fishing sometimes in the stream that ran through their property. Uncle Eric had put more fish in it so that they could catch more. Hunter loved catching fish with his Uncle Jason. And Uncle Jason was really easy to practice his shields with too.
Uncle Jason mostly just thought about how much he loved Jessica and what was going to be for dinner that day. But sometimes, Uncle Jason would think about really interesting things too—like the way a car engine went all together. And he was the best at thinking about what kinds of food the fish wanted to eat when they went fishing. He always thought about lots of things in order to pick just the right food. He thought about how fast the water was running, about what time of day it was, about the temperature outside, and about what insects he saw around the water. Yep―Hunter had learned a lot from his Uncle Jason.
Once when Uncle Jason had been thinking about how nice it was to kiss Jessica, Hunter had told him that he was wanting to kiss Emma. Uncle Jason had told him that it was probably best to wait on that for a while because girls didn’t like to start kissing until they were more grown up. Hunter thought that his Uncle Jason’s advice had been real smart that day, so he was gonna hold off on kissing Emma for the time being. Something inside of him knew that he’d be kissing her sooner or later though, so he agreed with Uncle Jason that there was no hurry and that he didn’t want to upset Emma.
Hunter sometimes wondered if he would ever look at Emma like Uncle Jason looked at Jessica, or like Jesus looked at Lafayette, or like Jarod looked at Miranda, or especially like Uncle Eric looked at pictures of Aunt Sookie. Something in Hunter suspected that he just might.
Hunter loved Miranda too. She was definitely the smartest day person he knew, but she was also the most difficult day person for him to hear. Hunter figured that this was because she was a Werelioness, but that made her the first person that he had been able to block out of his thoughts with his shields. Miranda taught him new things every day, and every day he heard her thinking about how proud of him she was.
And Hunter also got to hear how much she loved little Godric too. Godric didn’t really have a lot of thoughts in his head yet, but Hunter was starting to pick up impressions from the infant and could tell Miranda sometimes when he was hungry or wanted to be in his little swing.
Hunter also loved Jarod. Like Uncle Lala, Jarod was really funny, but he didn’t hear him as well as his Uncle Lala because Jarod was a shifter. In the day time, Hunter liked it when Jarod was around. He’d always have a joke to tell Hunter or a riddle for Hunter to try to figure out. And the best part was that Jarod wouldn’t think about the answer, so Hunter could have all the time he needed to solve the riddle.
Hunter was also beginning to like Tara too―though that was taking a while. Tara didn’t like kids―or so her thoughts had told him―but Tara had decided to like Hunter. Tara also thought some mean things about Aunt Pammy sometimes, but one night he’d talked to Aunt Pammy about them, and she’d told him that she could be mean sometimes, but she was trying to be nicer to Tara now.
And Hunter did like hearing Tara and Uncle Lala talking and thinking about Aunt Sookie. Hunter had decided to like Tara one day when she was thinking about how she’d been the one to defend his Aunt Sookie a lot of the times when people made fun of her for her telepathy. In his book, this made Hunter want to start liking Tara―so he did.
Hunter had liked Amelia from the first day because she had immediately liked him, but it was hard for Hunter to like her sometimes because her brain was so loud, and he could sometimes hear her thinking from all the way across the house. He’d told Miranda a week after Godric had been born that he needed help building thicker boxes in his head to keep Amelia’s thoughts out, so now he spent a half hour most days working on his shields with Amelia. She was often thinking about fairies, and Hunter was learning a lot about what they were like from her.
She also was starting to think a lot about Uncle Eric’s friend Tray and how handsome she thought he was. Amelia had been hoping that Tray would invite her to the movies, so one night Hunter had told Tray all about it when he was visiting Uncle Eric.
That night, Uncle Eric and he had had a long talk about the need to keep people’s thoughts to himself and to learn when it was okay or not okay to tell people about what others were thinking. It was okay if Hunter thought there was danger and not okay if there wasn’t. Uncle Eric said it was best to try to forget people’s thoughts when they weren’t relevant to Hunter or to the safety of the people he knew. Uncle Eric hadn’t been mad at him that night; in fact, he’d laughed a lot as they’d talked and he’d spoken a lot about Aunt Sookie and how she dealt with hearing people’s thoughts.
In the end, Tray had taken Amelia to a movie and they went out all the time now, so Hunter guessed things had worked out. Still, Hunter was getting better at keeping Amelia’s thoughts out of his head. He was also getting better about not repeating what he heard from people’s heads.
Batanya was growing on Hunter slowly but steadily. She was an almost constant presence in his life―though she didn’t really play much direct part in it. But when there was danger and when Hunter had to go into the cubby, he knew that Uncle Eric trusted her to keep him safe, so Hunter felt safer with her around. One time in June, Batanya had even sat with Hunter after he’d had a nightmare on a night that Uncle Eric was working as a sheriff. Batanya had told him that no fairy would ever take him to their world as long as she was around, and he believed her. After that, he’d felt just fine as he waited for his Uncle Eric to come home.
Hunter loved his night people too. Jessica was one of his favorites. Other than Emma, Mommy, and Aunt Sookie, she was the prettiest girl he’d ever seen. And she was really nice too. She and Uncle Jason would always play games with him, and Jessica would babysit him when Uncle Eric and Aunt Pammy both had to go to work early on Sunday nights. She was sweet and made him sloppy joes, which he loved.
Aunt Pammy was another of his favorites. She was always making him laugh and was the funniest of his night people. When she and Uncle Lala would talk to each other, it was really hard for Hunter to stop giggling, and his sides often hurt from laughing at them. He’d lost count of all the times Uncle Lala or Aunt Pammy had said the phrase, “Hunter, don’t repeat this,” when they were talking. Aunt Pammy would also help him learn Swedish sometimes.
Bubba was also really fun to hang out with. And Bubba was always watching over everyone at night. Sometimes Bubba even sang songs for everyone when they had a fire outside at night. Hunter loved to sit on Uncle Eric’s lap and hum right along.
Of all of his people, however, the one he loved the most by far was his Uncle Eric. If Batanya made him feel safe, Uncle Eric made him feel even safer. If Miranda taught him something smart in the day time, Uncle Eric always taught him something even better at night. He and Jason had a lot of fun, but Hunter had his most fun times with Uncle Eric.
From the first moment he’d met Uncle Eric―even though Mommy had always told him that vampires were bad―Hunter knew that she was wrong and that Uncle Eric was good.
After Mommy and Aunt Sookie had been taken to the fairy world, Hunter had tried to get outside to help Uncle Eric because he was trapped in the net. Uncle Eric had spoken to him from the porch that night and had told him that it would be okay, and it was. And it had been ever since—except for maybe when Uncle Eric was sick and when he went away to the fairy world for that one night. But Hunter had always known things would be okay― even then―because Uncle Eric had told him that they would be.
Right after the mean fairies had taken Mommy and Aunt Sookie, Hunter had been so scared that Uncle Eric would burn up in the sun, but he didn’t. He’d found a way to get inside to Hunter; he hadn’t left him alone. And Hunter would never forget seeing his Uncle Eric come inside that morning. He’d felt truly safe for the very first time in his whole life in that moment—truth be told.
Yep—from that moment on, Uncle Eric had taken care of him. Sure―Uncle Eric had gotten him a lot of cool stuff like his swing set, his new bed, clothes, his pool, and other things, but Uncle Eric took care of him in lots better ways too. He watched movies with him in their chair. He taught Hunter how to speak in a new language that only Aunt Pammy and they could talk in. He taught him all about how to build things. And he told him lots and lots of stories.
When Hunter cried, it was Uncle Eric that he wanted to see. When Hunter had a nightmare, it was Uncle Eric that he reached out for in the dark. When Jarod told him a joke, it was Uncle Eric that he wanted to tell it to. When Miranda or Uncle Jason taught him something new, it was Uncle Eric that he wanted to tell all about it. When Hunter had questions, he mostly wanted to ask Uncle Eric. And when Hunter got sad because he missed Mommy, Uncle Eric made him feel lots better when nobody else could.
In fact, everything was better if Uncle Eric was there for it, as far as Hunter was concerned.
Hunter could not process the reasons why he felt so connected to his uncle Eric. He could not consciously recognize that their shared losses of his aunt Sookie and his mommy pushed them into seeing each other as safety nets in those early days that they were together.
Also, he could not consciously recognize that he had always been searching for a person in his life who would just accept him for who he was. His own father hadn’t accepted him, and even his mommy had sometimes thought that she’d be better off without him to worry about. Of course, his mommy had immediately scolded herself for thinking those things and didn’t want to think them at all. But she had thought them.
Even as a five-year-old, however, Hunter had known the difference between his father and mommy’s thoughts, which is why he loved and missed his mommy but not his father.
And Hunter did not know how to place proper value on the fact that he couldn’t hear Uncle Eric’s thoughts. He didn’t recognize that because he didn’t hear Uncle Eric’s thoughts, he felt safe in sharing his own thoughts with someone for the very first time. Ever since Uncle Eric had come into his life, Hunter had become more and more comfortable with himself. He was feeling more at peace with who he was. And Uncle Eric had surrounded him with people who liked him. And when they did have stray negative thoughts about him or someone else in the family, Hunter always felt safe talking to his Uncle Eric about them.
Hunter did not understand that he’d been longing for a real parent all his life―one who did not think bad things about him and one that actually wanted him—and not just because he or she should. Both his own parents had failed him—though Hunter had always thought of that failure as his own.
His father hadn’t wanted him most of the time—had thought that his life would be so much better without the boy around. And Hunter, so young and so frightened because he didn’t understand his telepathy, believed that the reason his father didn’t want him was valid. How could a child think any differently?
His mother had tried harder in many ways. She’d not been around much when Hunter was small, but his father liked it when she did come around because she would take Hunter away for a while. His mother had loved him but had wished he was different—normal. Hunter had heard her blaming herself for his telepathy all the time. And from her head, he learned the difference between really loving someone because you liked them and loving someone because you should like them. Hunter had taken her thoughts into his heart and had tried to make himself better so that she would like him more. But no matter how much he tried to make his telepathy go away, it never did. No matter how hard his mother prayed for it to go away, it never had. And, of course, a boy of five—just like his aunt before him—would have seen himself as the cause of the problem—or rather, as the problem itself.
In Eric he’d found someone completely different—well, almost different. His aunt Sookie had been like Uncle Eric too; he just didn’t know her as well. Aunt Sookie had once told him in his head that she was just like him—that he wasn’t alone. She’d also told him that she loved him, and she’d only just met him when she’d done that! But her head had told him that she was being 100% truthful!
Now Hunter had lots of people who loved him just the way he was. Aunt Sookie was the first to tell him that, but Uncle Eric was the first one he really believed with his whole heart, so he was the first person that Hunter could love back fully. Hunter was able to love Eric without fear, and though he couldn’t hear his vampire guardian’s mind, he trusted him fully. Aunt Pammy called them ‘two peas in a pod,’ and although Hunter didn’t quite know what that meant, he liked the sound of it.
Hunter also had a big secret. He wanted to start calling Uncle Eric his Daddy. He also already thought the word Daddy when he thought about Uncle Eric.
He’d slipped one day in front of Miranda and had called Uncle Eric, “Daddy.” But he’d made Miranda promise not to tell Uncle Eric about it. Hunter somehow intuited that it wasn’t the right time to ask Uncle Eric about it then.
For several months now, Hunter had known that something was very wrong with his Uncle Eric―his Daddy. They still spent all of the nighttime together, and it was Hunter’s favorite time of the day because of that. They still did their woodworking together, and Uncle Eric had even let Hunter make most of his own nightstand during the last weeks. And they were getting ready to start building some new furniture for Godric for when he got a little older.
Uncle Eric still taught him how to speak in Swedish a little every night too. And they’d swim or walk or fly or watch a move or sit by the fire together every night, even on Sundays before Uncle Eric had to go to work. And they still ate dinner together and talked about Hunter’s day together. They still laughed and joked about things they saw on television or things Aunt Pammy or Uncle Lala or Miranda said. And Uncle Eric still tucked him in, told him his bedtime stories, and gave him his goodnight kisses every night.
Yes―everything was the same, but everything was also different because Uncle Eric was different. Hunter knew that he was sad about something important. He couldn’t read Uncle Eric’s thoughts, but he could read his face. Though he didn’t know it, he was just like his aunt Sookie in that he’d become very good at matching people’s facial expressions to their thoughts. He was so good, in fact, that he could tell what people were thinking by looking at their faces even when he’d built the boxes around their thoughts. He would then confirm what he thought by listening in for a few seconds, and he found that he was almost always right.
He could definitely guess what Jessica was thinking most of the time by just looking at her face, and though Uncle Eric was more difficult for him to decipher, Hunter could see that his smiles were not as bright and his eyes were not as alive as they had been. Hunter knew that Uncle Eric had gone through different types of sadness because he missed Aunt Sookie so much, but Hunter also knew that this was the worst kind so far.
So Hunter had decided to try to figure out what was wrong with Uncle Eric. He knew that he could just ask him, but he felt that would make him sadder. And Hunter intuited that Uncle Eric needed their time together to make him feel better. So Hunter had started doing something that he’d never done before; he started trying to find out specific information by probing into people’s heads so that he could figure out why Uncle Eric was so sad.
And once he figured it all out, Hunter was determined to help his daddy.
Hunter had begun his mind-probing project about a week before, though he was always careful not to poke into people’s heads too hard or to be too obvious as he asked questions. From people’s stray thoughts over the past couple of months, he had learned that Uncle Eric’s sadness was related to Aunt Sookie in some way. And he knew from the way Aunt Pammy looked at Uncle Eric that she was worried about him too.
His first fear had been that Aunt Sookie was dead, and then he worried that his mommy might be dead too, so he wanted to figure those things out first. He thought about Lisa’s hamster, Rocket, dying two weeks before. Lisa had been talking about Rocket when she, Coby, Mikey and their parents had come over the week before for a barbeque.
After that, Hunter had talked about Rocket’s death with pretty much everyone, but no one had thought about Aunt Sookie or his mommy dying―although they’d all had thoughts of other people that they knew dying. Hunter was learning that this was the way most people thought. If a topic was brought up, people would often connect the subject of conversation to other things that were related to it in their minds.
Hunter continued with his investigation for the next few days. He found out that something bad had happened to Uncle Eric the night that the bad fairies had come while he’d been hiding in the cubby with Batanya and Uncle Jason.
When Tray had come over to hang out with Amelia at the fire the night before yesterday, Hunter had found out even more because Tray tended to think in pictures. At one point, Tray had looked at Uncle Eric when he wasn’t looking back. Tray had shaken his head a bit and had looked really sad, so Hunter took down the box around Tray’s thoughts and listened.
Hunter had seen an image of Uncle Eric being shot with a light by the mean fairy who had taken away Mommy and Aunt Sookie. Uncle Eric had looked really hurt and had fallen down and cried the red tears that Jessica had told him vampires cried. Tray had also been thinking about his Uncle Eric and Aunt Sookie’s bond, but Hunter couldn’t figure out what was wrong with it. He worried, however, that the mean fairy had made Uncle Eric sick again.
For the next several days, Hunter had continued piecing together people’s thoughts, but he couldn’t quite get everyone to think the thoughts he needed them to think.
Finally, Hunter decided that he wanted to know what was wrong with his uncle Eric right then; he was tired of waiting, so he elected to ask the one daytime person who he thought would tell him everything in a way he knew he would understand.
Yep—Hunter had his plans ready when he woke up on November 8.