NOTE: You might want to pull out the Kleenex. Possible trigger warning: a soldier’s death and his family’s grief are portrayed.
Annapolis, MD • December 3, 2004
“I love you and William so much—you know that,” I said to my mother-in-law.
“You are our daughter, and you always will be,” Sophie-Anne LeClerq Compton returned firmly, even as she gripped my hand even more firmly.
“I know, and I can’t thank you enough for that, but I can’t stay here,” I said, looking around the beautiful sitting room of the home the Comptons owned in Annapolis, Maryland. William’s father, Jacob, had bought the home when he’d been an advisor to President Reagan almost two decades before, and the family had kept the townhouse, sometimes renting it to members of Congress who couldn’t invest in a permanent residence in the area. In anticipation of William’s win of his Senate seat in early November, William and Sophie-Anne had been preparing the Annapolis home for their own semi-permanent residence when a soldier had knocked on their door to tell them that Bill had been killed in action.
I closed my eyes as I recalled getting the news myself. I’d been helping out in Gran’s garden, pulling some weeds, which were threatening her winter vegetable garden, when the black sedan had pulled up the driveway, jostling along through the rough gravel. Jase and I had been living with Gran ever since Bill had deployed for his latest—his last—tour in Iraq.
I’d known as soon as I’d seen the vehicle. And I’d realized that I’d been subconsciously looking for that nondescript vehicle—dreading its coming—for years.
Almost five years.
Five years—that was to be how long Bill would remain on active duty. Before that, there had been thirteen weeks of boot camp, followed by more specialized training with some leave thrown in here and there.
The day of Bill’s first deployment, he and I had started the countdown.
Five years and then he’d come home for good.
When we were Sophomores in high school, Bill had decided to follow in his family’s footsteps and become a Marine. I had known even before then that he’d serve. And his decision to be a soldier wasn’t even because of his family legacy either, though I knew that Bill was proud of that legacy. William and Sophie-Anne had never compelled him to join up; indeed—though she never said anything out loud—I thought that Sophie-Anne had been secretly hoping that Bill would make a different choice for his own life path, a choice that did not include being a soldier.
With Bill, serving in the Marines had more to do with a simple pull to serve his country—to give back to it a bit of what it had given to him and his family. I was proud of him. Despite his “pull,” Bill had told me that he would change his plans if I wanted him to—after my brother Jason was killed in action.
But I hadn’t told him to stay home, even though a large part of me now wished that I had.
In the end, I supported his choice to become a soldier. I accepted Bill as he was. He was a man of service—a man of tradition.
It was his adherence to traditions that helped to explain why he was always a perfect gentleman with me (except for some PG-13 make-out sessions)—even though we “officially” dated for three years before we married.
It was why he made sure I had the Southern wedding of my dreams and the perfect honeymoon to complement it.
It was why he worked so hard on little restoration projects for the home that had been in his family for hundreds of years.
It was why he learned every square inch of his family’s land.
It was one of the reasons I loved him.
We’d contemplated waiting to get married until after Bill was done with his years of active service. We would be only 25, after all. At that point, he’d planned to start college and then go to law school. Meanwhile, I planned to be getting my degree while he was away serving. We both figured that would be “good timing” since I’d be able to focus on my studies and have things to occupy my mind whenever he was on active duty.
In other words, we’d hoped that my studies would keep me distracted so that I wouldn’t drive myself crazy with worry.
Ultimately, we’d decided to get married the summer after we graduated—not long after my eighteenth birthday. We were both certain of each other and ready to start our lives as a married couple, even though we knew that being apart would be difficult.
And I—for one—wanted sex before I was 25. And Bill had been determined to wait for marriage.
In the end, I was glad that we had waited until we got married. Our wedding night was special in a way that would always stick to my heart. Oh—we weren’t that great at sex our first time. But we were “experts” by the end of our honeymoon.
Expert enough to apparently break the odds.
The birth control pill said it was 99.7% effective.
Bill and I were part of the 0.03%.
Especially when my blood pressure went up not six weeks into the pregnancy, I decided to put off college and prepare myself to be a single mother most of the time—at least, until Bill was done with active duty. Though Bill and I planned to live in his family’s Bon Temps estate when he was on leave or between deployments, he supported my decision to stay with Gran across the old Bon Temps cemetery whenever he was away from home.
It was easier all the way around, especially after William Jason Compton was born on April 20, 1999. I insisted that our child become the third Compton boy in a row to have the name William, and Bill insisted that his middle name be given in honor of my brother. I’d been more touched than I could say. Since William and Bill had already been taken (and neither of us liked “Billy” or “Will”), we opted to call our son Jason—shortening it almost immediately to Jase.
I’d just been grateful that Bill had been able to get leave from training to be at the birth of his son.
Because Bill’s family was wealthy, I’d not needed to work, which was good since I had bedrest for most of my pregnancy. Moreover, though Jase was an amazing baby from the start—adapting to a schedule right away so that I could mirror his sleep cycle, it took my body a while to recover. Plus, I found myself depressed, suffering from postpartum disorder, as well as simply missing my husband. Luckily, I had Gran there to help me through the worst of it. And I had an excellent doctor that noticed the signs right away so that I could get help.
Though I probably should have told Bill about my problems, I tried to keep how hard being a single parent was from my husband, especially after Gran fell and broke her hip about eight months after Jase was born. Plus, whenever Bill was home, I didn’t want to focus on how my life was difficult when he wasn’t able to do anything about it.
Especially after September 11, 2001—when Bill’s deployments became so much more high-stakes—I was grateful for every hour I had with Bill. Every second.
And I wanted to enjoy our time together.
And it wasn’t as if Bill didn’t help me—even from afar. He even arranged for a nurse to live with Gran and me when she first came home from the hospital. And Jesús still came by four times a week to work with Gran on her movement. Indeed, I felt like he—and by extension Bill—was the reason Gran was walking.
Bill. Even thinking about never having him around to help me again—to love me again—made a few tears escape my eyes—tears where I thought there were none left to shed. I couldn’t help but to remember how we’d talked about expanding our family during his last time home between tours.
“Sookie? Are you okay?” Sophie-Anne asked with concern.
I nodded. “Sorry. I drifted away there—remembering. I was just thinking about the last time Bill was on leave. We talked about getting pregnant again.”
“You’re not—uh—are you?” Sophie-Anne asked, gesturing toward my belly with a bit of hope in her eyes.
“No,” I said softly.
She shook her head as if to clear it. “No. Of course not. He left what? Five or six months ago? And you would have said something to us if you were.”
I reached over and took her hand. “Your son was a wonderful father to Jase.”
She nodded and brushed a tear away, the picture of a strong Southern woman in that moment.
“William and I really do wish you and Jase would stay here with us, Sookie,” she entreated.
“I need to be in Bon Temps with Gran,” I said softly. “And I think I’ll go ahead and start school next fall—as Bill and I talked about. After all, Jase will be in kindergarten by then.”
To her credit, Sophie-Anne didn’t try to implore me anymore. We’d already had a longer discussion about me and Jase staying with them in Annapolis. We’d also talked a lot about what to do with the Comptons’ Bon Temps home. In truth, I didn’t need it—or even want such a large dwelling. I’d been willing to be “the lady of the manor”—so to speak—for Bill, but I was more comfortable as just plain-old Sookie, who lived in a slightly run-down farmhouse.
To their credit, the Comptons understood that taking over the big plantation-style house and the farm business were too much for me. So they promised to keep employing the person that was already overseeing the property. And—of course—Jase could still play on the land as he wished. The house would be his one day as well, just as it had officially passed to Bill on his 21st birthday, three years before. When in Louisiana, William and Sophie-Anne now lived in New Orleans with William’s seventy-five-year-old mother, Jenny, rather than in Bon Temps. And Bill had no siblings to take the property.
The Comptons were distantly related to the Bellefleurs, but that family had land and money of their own.
I felt sad—for a moment—that Bill and I hadn’t had more children, more little Comptons to help regrow the family. As it was, the Stackhouse name had only one member left: Gran.
In addition, I was sad that the big Compton house would be empty, but my idea to rent it out had been met by hesitation on the parts of William and Sophie-Anne, so I’d not pushed the issue.
“How is Gran doing?” Sophie-Anne asked kindly.
Of course, she already knew, but it was good to change the topic away from all the things that had changed because of Bill’s death.
That’s why I decided not to mention again just how sorry Gran was that she couldn’t make it to the funeral, which would be held at Arlington National Cemetery, where Bill would be laid to rest in full regalia.
I was, of course, sad that my husband wouldn’t be in Bon Temps cemetery. However, I’d had a long talk with Jase about it. Bill hadn’t made his preferences known, and—ultimately—Jase and I decided that the honor of an Arlington burial was something special that couldn’t be passed up. I knew that Jase would be able to visit his father’s grave whenever he visited his grandparents, who I figured would be living in the Washington, D.C. area for at least the next 12 years, the timeframe of two Senate terms. And—though William didn’t know if he’d go for a third term (not surprising since he’d yet to officially start his first!)—everyone knew that he’d be able to stay a U.S. Senator as long as he wanted—at least, as long as he didn’t do anything too controversial, which didn’t seem to be in his nature anyway.
Given that he’d won with 74% of the vote, getting bipartisan support, he’d be a hard man to beat as long as he kept wanting the job as Senator.
In the end, I realized that a grave would never be where my husband was anyway. My faith told me that he was already in Heaven. My heart told me that he was with me and Jase—always.
“Gran’s good,” I said, finally responding to Sophie-Anne with an apologetic look; thankfully, my mother-in-law had already forgiven me for all of my problems carrying on a conversation over the last several days. It was just too easy to get lost in my thoughts—in my grief.
“She’s getting around much better again—without the walker. My friend, Tara, is staying over with her while Jase and I are here. And her nurse, Jesús, is with her too. Thanks, by the way, for makin’ sure that there will be no problem keeping Jesús on.”
Sophie-Anne brushed off my gratitude with a wave of her hand. She knew I was uncomfortable having any of Bill’s inherited money—especially since I would be getting benefits from the military too—but she’d kindly reminded me that I could use as much or as little of Bill’s money as I needed—and that the rest could go to Jase one day.
Of course, she was right. And I would use it to make sure Jase, Gran, and I were comfortable—though I did intend to have my own profession once I was done with college. Being a full-time mother had been wonderful, but I was ready to pursue some of my own career goals once Jase was in school.
Sophie-Anne sighed. “Your Gran grows the most beautiful roses in the South. Did I ever tell you that it was roses from her garden that filled my bouquet when I married William?”
“No,” I smiled before gratefully listening to my mother-in-law’s story.
Thirty minutes later, I climbed the stairs in order to try to sleep. I contemplated taking a sleeping pill since I’d had very little rest since learning of Bill’s death, but one look into Jase’s room where I saw my tossing and turning son convinced me not to do that. He didn’t need a conked-out mother.
I went into Jase’s room to sooth him a bit, and—as always—he settled down when I patted his back gently.
Jase, like Bill, had always suffered from the occasional nightmare, and—not surprisingly—his father’s death had brought on a new round of them for our son. For that reason, I didn’t close the door of the bedroom I was staying in. If he needed me, I wanted to hear.
I quickly prepared for bed, washing my face and changing into a comfortable nightgown. I lay down and cuddled a pillow close to my chest. When Bill was deployed, I used to let myself imagine such an object was my husband, but tonight the soft pillow seemed cold to me.
Still—I gripped it and prayed that I’d get through the next day—the day of my husband’s funeral.
December 4, 2004
As would be expected for a five-year-old boy, Jase was fascinated—and a little intimidated—by all of the soldiers at the Arlington service. Indeed, he didn’t quite understand the need for somberness, especially when there were so many “awesome soldiers” to see. Plus, Jase wasn’t used to his father being around; in fact, Bill seemed like someone disconnected from him.
Oh—Jase loved his daddy a lot and had been Bill’s little shadow whenever he’d been home. But I knew that Jase hadn’t yet fully taken in what Bill’s death meant. My son had been spared losing someone up until this time in his young life. He’d never even lost a pet, for Bill had been allergic to cats and dogs.
Speaking of pets—when Jase and I got home, I’d already decided to take two kittens that Arlene had left from her cat’s litter. In all honesty, I figured that the little furry creatures would help me as much as they did my son.
I was grateful that Jase didn’t know that his father was the reason we’d never gotten a pet. And I knew that a pet couldn’t replace a father—not by any stretch of the imagination. But I was going to try every trick in the book to make Jase’s life easier in the coming weeks, months, and years—as his father’s death truly hit him.
I sighed. Sadly, the very nature of Bill’s profession would help to soften Jase’s experience. Since Jase was so used to Bill’s being gone for long stretches of time—it might even be a while before his father’s permanent absence was fully felt by my little man.
I sighed again, not knowing quite how I’d be ready for that inevitable day. Of course, I’d not really been ready to be a mother in the first place, but I wouldn’t trade that role for anything else in the world.
My breath hitched a little as I looked at the beautiful pictures of my husband setting up on easels next to his coffin—one that I’d been told ought not to be opened, even when I’d asked to see my husband one last time. The captain who’d greeted us when we’d met Bill’s coffin at Andrews Airforce Base had pulled William and me aside to tell us that seeing Bill would not bring us peace.
William had then convinced me that the captain was right.
So—since I couldn’t see Bill—I looked at the pictures I’d chosen for the service. One was of him in his full uniform, smiling at the camera with a fresh high and tight haircut. I couldn’t help but to smile through a tear. I’d hated that haircut so much! I liked it when Bill had a bit more hair that I could run my fingers through—nothing too long, but certainly more than a standard Marine cut.
The second picture was one of Bill holding Jase when he was about eleven months old. Again, Bill was in uniform. It was taken right after Bill arrived home from a deployment. It had been only the second time that Bill had met his son, having gotten to spend only a couple of days in Bon Temps after Jase was born.
The third picture was the only one where Bill wasn’t in uniform, which was ironic since he was posing with several people from his Platoon. They were all in street clothes, however, enjoying a night out in San Diego before their first deployment.
Bill looked happy and a little excited—as if he were anticipating something. Of course, right next to him was Eric Northman, his best friend. The two had become inseparable almost as soon as Bill started basic training in San Diego. Over the years, they’d become like brothers, even competing like siblings. But Bill had progressed to Lieutenant first among his peers. I was proud of him for that, though he always insisted that Eric should have been first.
To keep the tears from spilling as I thought about the long talks I used to have with my husband—often on the phone or, more recently, using the modern miracle that was Skype—I studied Eric Northman for a few moments. Since my focus had always been on Bill when I’d looked at the picture before, I’d never really noticed that Eric’s expression conveyed more worry than happiness or excitement. In fact, his expression was one of protectiveness and determination.
Bill had told me a little bit about Eric’s background once, and it had made me sad. Bill said that Eric had lost his parents in a car crash and all but lost his half-sister to her biological father in London. He’d said that Eric was cut-off from his emotions in some ways, but that he felt them a lot stronger than most people—when he let them show.
Bill truly had loved Eric like a brother, and I had been looking forward to meeting him—finally—after their current tour was over, something that would have happened in only a few more months. I couldn’t help but to believe that I would never meet Eric now. Doing so would likely be too hard for me anyway—especially after his call from Iraq.
Oh—don’t get me wrong. I’d been grateful for that call in some ways. The men who told me that Bill was dead shared very little about the how. Eric said a lot more, though I’d been able to tell that he was holding something back—probably the horror that had necessitated that the casket lid stay closed. With a shiver, I tried to focus on the fact that Bill had died a hero. Eric had said that Bill died saving the life of one of his men.
And I wasn’t surprised by that.
Eric had also said that Bill had been shot four times and would not have suffered.
Eric had apologized for not being with Bill—for not killing the sniper who killed my husband soon enough.
I could tell that Eric carried a lot of guilt over Bill’s death—unfounded guilt. I’d decided to write to him to let him know he shouldn’t feel that way. I would have told him that on the phone, but I’d been crying too much to make any sense.
Eric had also told me that he’d be sending me Bill’s things, including a letter my husband had been in the middle of writing to me. I was already preparing myself emotionally to read it.
I was taken out of my thoughts as those in attendance were asked to rise for the Presentation of Arms, and then I jumped a little as the 21-gun salute began. I managed to smile down at Jase as he gasped and looked on with fascination. Not long after that, “Taps” began playing, a lone bugler sending the song’s notes up towards the heavens. I made sure that I wasn’t gripping Jase’s hand too tightly, given how much sorrow careened into my body at the first note of that song. It meant that Bill’s casket would soon go into the ground.
Somehow, I was sitting again as I watched as the Honor Guard folded the flag that had been on the casket. And I wept openly as one of the soldiers handed me the flag. I moved it so that Jase could hold it too as the rest of the service finished in a blur.
I was a widow.
And my child would grow up with precious few memories of his father.
A/N: Hello all. I hope you enjoyed this chapter. If you read my author’s note for Sunday’s chapter of The Engine, you know that I’m sick, so I won’t give you a long note here.
In this chapter, I really wanted to try to portray—at least a little—how much grief a young widow like Sookie would be feeling. I cannot imagine losing a spouse to war. Though there’s no way I can truly understand, I hope that I did do some justice to this fictional Gold Star Family. And—if you are a member of such a family in real life—I want to tell you how sorry I am. And also how grateful.
Please leave me a comment if you have the time and the inclination.