Leap of Faith
Chapter 4 : Liar! Liar!
I drove home from Sookie’s with a silly grin on my face and a knot in my stomach. Pam had better be awake when I get home, because we are going to have words. They fucking lied to me. All of them. I cannot begin to fathom…What. The. Fuck? Years of my life were built on the belief that she had been fine.
The decision to break up with Sookie had been agonizing. The possibilities of what could happen after I enlisted were endless, but many of them ended with her completely miserable. I saw her alone for months at a time, feeling neglected, or shit, widowed. I did not want any of this for her; and I couldn’t be the one to put her through those things. I knew that breaking up would be hard on both of us, but I thought that we’d both be able to move on after some time had passed. The agony I felt walking away from her sitting on the porch that night had been unimaginable.
Aunt Octavia, or Aunt O as I called her, had been alarmed at the wreck I’d been after breaking it off with Sookie. I wasn’t sleeping, and I threw up every time I tried to eat. She just kept trying to feed me, saying I was going to need my energy, but it wasn’t working out for either of us.
When I decided to enlist, Aunt O had been supportive, saying things like, “Your Uncle Bill would be so proud of you. I’m so proud of you. Serving your country is an honor.” But my sister had been a complete bitch when she found out. Pam told me I was selfish and self-centered and that I was going to get myself killed, leaving her to deal with a grief stricken Aunt O if something should happen to me. Pam always had a vivid imagination, and as a high school sophomore, I think she was terrified to imagine her older brother going to war. It was kind of touching, if you could cut through all of the dramatic bullshit she was screaming.
When it was time for me to leave for Boot Camp, and I was still acting like a despondent zombie, Aunt O decided to drive me to the bus station without Pam. I hugged and kissed my sister goodbye in the driveway and swore I would call or write when I could.
We didn’t say anything as we drove past my familiar haunts, but after we pulled in a parking space, Aunt O took my hand and started talking. “You made your choice Eric. You feel horrible and terrified and you want me to turn the car around,” she said.
I couldn’t figure out how she was reading my mind, but I was thinking all of those things.
She continued, not expecting me to respond, “Son, this was set in place the minute you signed those papers two months ago. Breaking up with Sookie was a separate decision, and you can do everything you need to fix things later if you want to.”
I was trying not to cry. Shit. I was leaving to join the fucking Marines. I couldn’t be crying when I got on the bus.
Then she put her hand to my cheek, “Eric, you’ve got to get on that bus and put her out of your mind for a spell. You are going to be a good Marine and you need to go in there with your head screwed on straight. You hear me? You give it one hundred and ten percent; and when things settle down, then you figure out what to do about Sookie? Okay?”
She was right and I knew it, but I still wasn’t sure I could get my mind off Sookie. So I busted my ass through training, and lay in bed every night picturing her on that porch swing grabbing at my shirt and begging me not to leave her. It fucking tore me apart, yet it pushed me to work even harder the next day
When we were finally given the chance to use the phone, I was exhausted from training and teary eyed with emotion. All I could think about was Sookie and how shitty I had felt walking away from her. I didn’t even consider calling my parents, and no matter how much I loved Pam and my Aunt; I wanted Sookie to be the first person I spoke to. I’d have given anything to hear her voice.
Her Gran answered the phone, “Oh, Eric. Sookie’s not around right now. I hope you’re doing well.”
Fuck! I knew Gran wasn’t brushing me off on purpose, she was just using her southern manners, but the knife in my heart was twisting deeper.
When I asked about Sookie she said, “Oh, she’s fine son. She took it hard, but she’s a tough girl. She’ll manage.” Then she continued talking like I hadn’t broken her granddaughter’s heart a few weeks ago, “Now how are they treating you? I suppose you don’t get to use the phone much. I’m going to have to call your Aunt for you aren’t I?”
The next call to their house had been similar, although it was from Jason’s perspective. “Oh hey. Sook’s not home. How you been man? How many guns have you learned to shoot?”
He had paused when I asked about Sookie, then he said, “You know how chicks are, man. She’s alright though. I think she’s takin’ some stuff to the post office for Gran.”
My family had said pretty much the same things. Now I figured they had all gotten together and discussed how to “handle” the two of us. Unfucking believable.
At the recruiting office, I had asked to become a Reconnaissance Marine. They are the best of the best, the Marines’ version of Navy SEALS, or Army Rangers. Always one to push myself to be the best, my expectations for myself in the military were no different. My ASVAB (Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery) scores had been impressive to the recruiter, so I was given the Recon contract that I wanted. I knew that I was lucky as Hell to get the contract, so I worked hard to prove that I deserved it.
After Boot Camp I went to School of Infantry training at Camp Geiger in North Carolina and then the Recon Indoctrination Program in Virginia. All in all, training lasted close to two years. Eventually, I ended up as a part of the 2nd Recon Battalion out of Camp LeJeune, North Carolina. Over time, I worked my way up to Gunnery Sergeant and served as a team leader. It was an honor that both terrified me and strengthened my resolve as a Marine.
Although Cal and I were the tightest, I was close with the most of the guys in my unit. Hell, spending 24/7 together for twelve months at a time forces you to know people whether you want to or not. There was a small group of us that had agreed from the beginning that we would stay together and do a tour to honor each one of us. There was no wussing out if you got married; we were doing four tours, together. The only out we agreed on was if you had a sick kid, and so far, no one had needed to make that decision.
I had been back to Bon Temps a few times since I left, but it always reminded me of Sookie, so it made the trips home bittersweet. Then Aunt O died, and coming home was even harder. Pam had been in college and the house was empty unless she was on school breaks or holidays, so it was just easier not to come home at all.
When I was on leave I traveled with some of the other single guys or hung out with my friend Cal and his wife Sophie Anne, relaxing or working on my corvette, which I was kind of obsessive about. While stationed in some shit hole in the Persian Gulf, I read all kinds of car magazines and researched exactly what kind of car I wanted to buy; it had been easy to save the money for it while overseas.
Shortly after we finished all of our training I stood up in Cal and Sophie Anne’s wedding, and she sort of adopted me as a brother, although she treated me more like a son sometimes. Sophie Anne knew damn near everything about me. The three of us spent way too much time together when Cal and I were home. I spent most evenings at their place for dinner or watching ESPN, and inevitably, Cal passed out first and woke up last, so Soph and I talked a lot.
She wanted to understand why I didn’t have a serious girlfriend, and she used a whole box of Kleenex when I told her about Sookie. Over the years a few of our friends had met women and developed these long distance relationships; and then gotten married the when they were on leave. The long distance thing didn’t interest me at all. I wanted more, and I wanted it with someone like Sookie, if I couldn’t have her in the flesh.
Honestly, I didn’t have much luck dating post Sookie. Sure, I had my pick of random women to sleep with, and I can’t say that I never took the opportunity. Dating a Marine is tough. We’re possessive, aggressive, and generally feel the need to be in control of most situations. It wasn’t really appealing to the kind of women that I was interested in; the kind of women that you took your time getting to know and actually developed a connection with. Being home for less than a month on average didn’t really allow for relationships.
Eventually, it was Sophie Anne that introduced me to Hadley. Thinking about Hadley after everything I learned today made my stomach turn. Fuck. If my family had told me the truth, if Sookie’s family had told me how bad she’d been, would I have even met Hadley?
Fate is a fickle bitch. There’s no telling what path your life will take, and there’s no way to know if one little change could make the world of difference. Not that being back with Sookie would have been a little change, but would it have been enough? Great; like I needed more guilt about Hadley. She’d been dead almost 18 months now, and sadly, it was longer than I had actually known her.
My Battalion finished our third tour of duty last week. What a fucked up mess that had been. We didn’t lose anyone on our team; but there were civilian casualties, a friendly fire incident and all the shit you try to avoid. After a quick debriefing, I had spent a full day in a drunken haze with Cal before sleeping it off and pulling myself together to head for Bon Temps. I had come home under direct orders from Sophie Anne.
“Go home. See your sister. Get your shit together. You’re no good to anyone the way you are,” Sophie Anne said. “Figure out if you want Sookie back and go get her, or put the shit away.”
It had been a slap in the face; but I knew she was right. I had dicked around for too long. My relationship with Sookie was a gaping wound that I needed to take care of; one way or the other. I had just shy of two weeks to figure everything out and report back to LeJuene, and Sophie Anne. From there, I was probably headed to some staging unit outside of the hot zone for a bit, and then, back to reality.
It was kind of spooky; Sophie Anne saying all of that to me before I actually ran into Sookie less than forty-eight hours later. But Soph had a history of making kind of strange predictions, you just never knew if what she said was going to come to pass or not. Like the goat.
One afternoon Soph came out to the patio and told me and Cal that she had this awful nightmare about a goat. We teased her and asked if it was trying to eat her or what the deal was. She got pissed and yelled at us, saying that it had just really freaked her out. There had been this skinny white goat where it shouldn’t have been, and she was terrified of it in her dream. We laughed it off, because what else do you do when someone says there afraid of a goat for Christ’s sake?
Then, about a month later he and I are back in some craptastic town in Iraq patrolling in the Humvee’s and I hear Cal say over the headset, “Fuck, Northman. Is that a goat?”
Sure enough, tied to a broken light post is a fucking skinny white goat, where it shouldn’t have been. I didn’t even hesitate and shouted an order for everyone to get the fuck out of there. Shit started blowing up, bullets were flying and if we’d have waited another second we would have had a Hell of a time getting out.
So when Sookie bumped into me in the store today, I was absolutely stunned to see her; but at the same time, I got a major chill down my spine because Sophie Anne had done it again.
Sookie looked so good that my heart practically jumped out of my chest, and I struggled to form words. Sophie Anne had told me to decide if I wanted Sookie back and here she was, standing in front of me like a goddess. Decision made. I knew in my heart that I wanted another chance and I was going to see if there was anything left for us to salvage.
Almost immediately upon seeing her, my brain had gone haywire. All I could think was that it really was Sookie standing there close enough to touch. I wanted to smell her, to hold her, to feel the way that her small body fit perfectly against mine, and God, I wanted to make love to her again so badly that I was sure she saw my cock twitching. But Jason pulled her away from me so quickly that I couldn’t even tell her how good it was to see her; to ask her how or where she’d been, and if she hated me.
The rest of the day and this evening had been just as damaging to my equilibrium. I couldn’t seem to put my mind around everything that I had heard. It was clear to me that that Sookie had struggled as much, and most likely more, than I had over our break-up. Then Tara mentioned something tonight about Sookie almost getting engaged and it was all I could do not to corner Tara for more information. When she called him a cheater, I wanted to hunt him down and gut him like a fucking fish.
The time I spent with Sookie just made me want to pick up where we left off; as impossible as that would be. She had grown into an amazing, intelligent, and beautiful woman over the last seven years. I didn’t really know if I deserved her; but I’d be damned if I was leaving Bon Temps without doing everything I could to win her back.
Pulling in to Aunt O’s house, I let out a deep breath. How the fuck could they do this to us?
I realized tonight that over the years I had been fed select information about Sookie. I didn’t talk to anyone from town except for my family and maybe Hoyt while I was away, so it had been easy for them to get their stories straight and decide what I should know. I was imagining this espionage like conspiracy, and I had to laugh because it was so unlikely, but I had a feeling it was exactly what had happened.
I opened the door and saw a very pregnant Pam sitting on the couch watching some chick flick. She and her husband Andre lived in Aunt O’s old house on the outskirts of Bon Temps. Andre was out of town at a convention for the next few days.
“Pam,” I said, “Just the person I wanted to talk to.”
“Get me more ice cream and I’m all yours,” she replied, having no inclination about the shit storm I felt like unleashing on her.
I grabbed the ice cream, a spoon, and a kitchen towel. I knew her system; towel wrapped around the container, spoon the ice cream directly into her mouth – no bowl.
“So, sis, it’s come to Jesus time.”
“Oh, God,” she said, rolling her eyes, “What?”
“Sookie and I discovered tonight that you all lied; to both of us.”
“Yeah. Start talking.”
“It wasn’t my decision Eric. I was fifteen. I just went along with the plan.”
“And what was the plan?”
“Something along the lines of not letting the two of you die from broken hearts.”
There was a lot more that I was bursting to say, but she was exactly right; it hadn’t been her decision. Both Adele Stackhouse and Octavia Fant had passed on, and I was certain that they were the master minds behind everything.
I nodded. “What about later? In the seven years since then you never thought to tell me?”
“Oh, I thought about it. But I also imagined your crazy ass reaction, ah la, now” she said waving her arm at me, “so I kept my mouth shut.”
“Damn it Pam. You really suck, you know that?”
“Yup. I’m your sister, not your friend. So deal.”
My brain was working on overdrive. I was wishing that I had somewhere to go workout because I just needed to work off some of this, angst.
“Don’t get all quiet. That’s usually bad,” Pam said.
“Well, what the fuck, Pam? What am I supposed to say? To think, for Christ’s sake? You all fucking lied to me… to her. We’ve both been fucking miserable. She didn’t even know I called! All of this time she fucking thought that I walked away and never looked back.”
She made a “Hmph” noise.
“What was that?”
“Nothing, I was wondering what Hadley would say right now.”
“Don’t talk about her. I cannot even begin to tell you how fucking fucked up I am thinking about that right now.” I ran my hands threw my hair. “Pam, seriously, my life has been a complete fucking lie.”
“Okay, drama queen. Your life has not been a lie. You were broken hearted for years. You put everything into your career, you’ve seen your friends die and you’ve been basically in Hell for three years, and then, somehow in the middle of it, you were finally able to care about someone again, and she was taken from you too. But Eric, just because Hadley died …”
“Pam,” I said cutting her off.
“It doesn’t mean you won’t ever have another chance at love. Look around asshole. Here it is. Really. Open your eyes.”
“Fuck off, Pam,” I said, standing and going up stairs.
Lying down on the single bed of my childhood, I remembered all of the nights I slept here dreaming of Sookie and happy times; but tonight I just felt lost. I wanted to push all of the questions out of my head and focus on Sookie and how I could make her understand that I still loved her; but my mind wasn’t cooperating.
“Fuck,” I muttered and got up to do some crunches and pushups in my boxers. Exercise helped take my mind off of things. As I counted, I focused on the feel of my spine rolling against the hard floor and the burn in my abs.
I was flushed and sweaty when I finished, and probably needed a shower; but I just wanted to sleep and stop my brain from churning. A quick workout was usually enough to clear my head, but not tonight. Even after tossing and turning for God knows how long, I fell asleep dreaming of Sookie with empty arms and a heavy heart.