A World Away: Chapter 10
By the end of July, I had been discharged from the hospital as well as the Air Corps and was on my way home. I still had a severe limp and walked with a cane, and probably would for a long time. My flying days were behind me, naturally. I was disappointed that I wouldn’t be able to fly, but I was grateful to be alive.
Tara Thornton’s warning gave me pause, and I made the decision to go and see Sookie rather than write to her. I could tell that there was something that Tara wasn’t telling me and I wanted to hear it from Sookie in person, not in a letter. Having the hope that Sookie loved me and was waiting for me had been pivotal to my survival, and I just didn’t know if I could take the death of that hope.
The day after I got home I made the trip down to Bon Temps. I got off the train and went into a restaurant called Merlotte’s. I figured I could ask some of the locals how to get to Sookie’s house. I sat at the bar and struck up a conversation with a woman named Maxine Fortenberry. I knew a dozen women just like her in Shreveport and knew that she would be full of information. The owner of the place, Sam, poured me a cup of coffee while I picked Maxine’s brain. Yes, she knew Sookie, and told me that she worked as a surgical nurse at the hospital. Maxine was an old friend of Sookie’s grandmother’s and I learned of Adele Stackhouse’s recent death. I finished my coffee, anxious to see Sookie. I left and made my way to the bus stop to go to the hospital. Waiting for the bus, I picked a handful of wildflowers and wanted to kick myself that I hadn’t thought of it sooner. I should have brought some sort of gift. A pretty little girl at the bus stop with her mother gave me a gold ribbon from her hair to wrap around my flowers and the gesture almost brought a tear to my eye it was so sweet. She couldn’t have been more than five years old. I thanked her and told her that the lady I was bringing them to would just love her ribbon.
I found my way to the surgical wing of the hospital and saw Sookie standing at the nurse’s desk. She took my breath away, and suddenly I was afraid to approach her. My whole body was trembling. There were people coming and going and so I figured I could sit unnoticed in a chair by the stairwell to compose myself.
A tall bald man dressed as a doctor approached Sookie and spoke to her while touching her elbow. She laughed and as she raised her hand to brush a wisp of hair from her face I saw the ring. Suddenly Tara Thornton’s warning made perfect sense. Sookie was married.
A part of me wanted nothing more than to sit and watch Sookie. She was more beautiful that I had remembered, and that’s certainly saying something. But another part of me was so brokenhearted that she was someone else’s wife. I wondered how I would stand and walk out of this place without crying like a baby. I had pinned all my hopes on this woman becoming my wife, and now what did I have to live for? Selfishly, I was destroyed, but then a part of me was also glad that she was alive and safe and cared for and hoped that she was happy. I decided that this wasn’t the place to have my little breakdown and so I walked away, leaving the flowers sitting in my chair. I wished I could take the ribbon back to that little girl because she’d sacrificed it for nothing.
I took the bus back to the train station, but was still feeling a little shaky and decided that I should have something to eat before making my trip home. I returned to Merlotte’s and found my seat again at the bar.
Maxine Fortenberry was still there and greeted me like an old friend. I ordered a hamburger and started to eat when she asked me if I had seen Sookie. “Yes, I did see her.” It wasn’t a lie.
“She’s such a sweet girl. And so lucky that that handsome Dr. Quinn is so crazy about her.” Sam shot her a dirty look.
“Yes. I think I saw him as well.”
“Tall fellow? Bald?”
“Yes, that’s the one.”
“He just thinks she hung the moon.”
“So do I.”
She eyed my cane. “Are you one of the soldiers she treated in the war? Were you a patient of hers? Is that why you came to see her?”
“Yes, I was one of her patients.” The one she gave her virginity to, I thought cynically.
“That’s so sweet. What’s your name, son?”
“Eric Northman.” Suddenly, conversation stopped, heads turned, all eyes were on me. Sam reached his hand out to shake mine.
“You’re the one who saved her life.”
“Yes, I did. But she saved mine as well.”
“You got the Silver Star.”
“Yes, I did.”
“It’s a real honor to meet you. You’re a real hero around here.”
“You know she even named her baby after you.” My heart stopped.
“She has a baby?” I thought, wow, she sure didn’t waste any time. I felt bitter at the thought of her finding a husband fast enough to have already had a baby with him. Maybe she had never loved me at all.
Maxine clucked her tongue. “That’s why it’s so sweet that that nice Dr. Quinn likes her so much. It’s not many men that would date an unwed mother.” I must have looked shocked when I turned to her. She lowered her voice to a whisper. “She was raped by those Germans you know. It’s lucky you saved her life, but it’ll never be the same now.” I felt the walls closing in on me. I tried to count the months. My brain wouldn’t work and I was starting to feel dizzy. “Are you okay, Mr. Northman?”
“What did she name her baby?”
“Pamela.” My sister’s name. “Pamela Northman Stackhouse.”
“Well, yeah, of course. She’s the sweetest little thing. So pretty and hardly ever cries in church…” I stopped hearing Maxine Fortenberry as my mind wrapped around what I had just learned. I took my wallet out to pay for my meal, but Sam insisted that it was on the house for the man who saved Sookie’s life. I asked Sam for directions to Hummingbird Lane, picked up my cane and left the bar.