How are you, my love?
I dreamed of you last night. Dad brought you a big dog – almost as big as you – I got mad at Dad because he’s making me the bad cop, who won’t let you keep the dog.
You cried – more like bawled – and said, Momma let ‘Googoo’ stay. (You said the last word with the silent S because you can’t pronounce your esses yet).
Yes, love, you’ve named the dog Googoo because, apparently, Goofy’s already taken. You and Dad must have been watching too much Mickey Mouse Clubhouse when I’m not home.
Don’t worry, sweetheart, you’re not in trouble. (But Dad is.)
Sadly, I woke up before I deliver the verdict on Googoo. But I don’t think I’ll be able to say no to you. Well, how can anyone say no to you with your big blue eyes? Momma’s a sucker for those baby blues.
It’s already getting nippy outside, love. I bet you’ll love winter here. It’s a shame I can’t show you around.
I miss you. More so today than yesterday.
But it’s okay, because Momma knows you’re in a place where no one can hurt you.
I hope I see you again tonight, angel.
She read the tearstained letter one more time before she folded it and put it in a white envelope. She licked the edges and pressed it to her lips. She tiptoed in front of the egg-shell louvered closet and pulled the black Nike shoebox that was shoved all the way in. She placed the letter on top of the hundreds more she had written in the past two years. All sealed, never to be read again.
Then she went for a jog. It was raining outside. All the better, Sookie thought, no one could tell she was crying in the rain.
Three years ago the morning after she found out she was pregnant…
“Are you sure?” Hadley asked her for the fifth time in less than an hour as they sat across each other from the small square wooden table beside the kitchen window. It was a small apartment so everything was cramped together.
Sookie took a healthy gulp of her fresh milk, leaving a faint white moustache above her upper lip. No more caffeinated drinks for her from now on.
“I took another test this morning. I’ve read that the first pee of the day’s the most potent,” Sookie replied calmly. “And yes, Had, there are still two stripes.”
Hadley leaned back in her chair, letting out a big puff of air that sounded more like a whistle. “Wow. I mean just wow. This is one fucked-up situation you’re in,” she hushed, rotating her mug of coffee in her cupped hands. She straightened up and leaned forward. “Why are you not panicking right now?”
Sookie smiled at her.
“You’re gonna keep it, aren’t you?”
Sookie arched her brow as though the answer should have been a no-brainer.
Hadley beamed, her hand clapped over her mouth to hide her grin. “I’m gonna be an aunt,” she said with glazed eyes.
“You’re gonna be an aunt,” Sookie echoed, as she fought to keep her own tears at bay.
“This is like watching Days of Our Lives, only better,” Hadley quipped. “The only thing missing is an evil twin and you’re gold!”
Sookie chuckled before she chugged down the rest of her milk.
“Are you gonna tell him?”
Sookie’s lips quivered before they curved into another smile. No, it was more like a an excited grin, one that stretched from ear to ear, revealing a shallow dimple on her left cheek.
She glued her eyes to Hadley as she nodded slowly. “I’m gonna tell him today. I already called the diner and told Arlene I still won’t be able to come to work,” she replied solemnly. “He deserves to know. Even if he doesn’t want anything -”
Hadley held up a finger to silence her. “Now you listen to me, Sook,” she started in a reproaching tone. “That man had done nothing but try to get you back the minute you came here. He’s willing to go Rambo against his grandmother for you. You must have been jacked up on pregnancy juice if you think he’s gonna bail out on you when he finds out you’re carrying his child.”
Sookie bit her lip. She had nothing to say to that. Hadley was right. Eric would go to hell and back for her. There was no question about it.
Sookie opened her mouth to sound off her agreement when their door started buzzing.
“Speak of the devil,” Hadley cooed with a wink as she stood up and went to the door before she pressed the intercom button and muttered a curt, “Yeah?”
“I’m here to see Susanna Northman,” an unfamiliar male voice blared through the speaker.
Sookie instantly stiffened. Nobody had called her that in two months. A cold finger poked her spine.
Hadley threw her a quizzical look before she turned to the small device on the wall. “Who is it?” she asked nervously.
“My name’s Desmond Cataliades, I work for Lilith Northman.”
Sookie’s suspicion was confirmed. Lilith had tracked her down. She should not have been surprised.
“What’s it about?” Hadley inquired again, her tone getting more tensed, defensive.
“I’m here to discuss a few legal matters with Miss Northman. It’ll be easier if you let me in.” His tone was laced with impatience.
Sookie took a few calming breaths as she strode toward Hadley by the door and clamped on her cousin’s shoulder. “Let him in, Had. If I’m gonna have this baby I can’t live in fear of Lilith anymore.”
Desmond Cataliades, a short, stocky man with receding hairline, seemed more congenial in person. He introduced himself as Lilith’s attorney as he took a seat opposite Sookie and Hadley at the dining table.
However, like most of Lilith’s associates, it didn’t take long before his true colors came to surface. He was Lilith’s advocate after all. Even before his peppermint tea had steeped properly he had already summed up the nature of his visit. He was clever enough to try to confuse Sookie with legal jargons. But he had to do better than throw highfalutin words at her to conceal his motive.
“You’re trying to buy me off?” Sookie said through gritted teeth, not even trying to hide her vexation.
The middle-aged lawyer in a tan suit coughed loudly before he smoothed the length of his pinstriped tie. “That’s one way to put it, yes,” he replied bluntly. “Mrs. Northman is willing to go as high as one and a half million if you agree to her terms.”
Lilith sent Cataliades to tell Sookie that her grandmother was planning on setting up a trust fund for her. Under certain conditions, of course, that Sookie was not to get within a hundred-mile radius from her or any of her blood kin – meaning Eric or Godric.
“And if I don’t take it?” Sookie asked, drilling the attorney with an unblinking glare.
“Mrs. Northman will be forced to file an assault charge against you and you will be summoned and tried in the state of California,” he answered in an even tone. “Miss Northman-”
“Stackhouse,” she corrected him. She would rather be nameless than accept the appellation.
He nodded tersely. “Miss Stackhouse,” he continued in a clipped a tone. “You look like a smart girl. If I were you, I’d take the deal. It’s a generous offer and it’ll help your cause.”
Sookie’s heart skipped a beat in fear that Lilith had somehow learned about her pregnancy. She quickly dismissed the notion. It was impossible.
“What do you know about my cause?” she asked with an accusing squint.
He sighed exasperatedly, flattening his tie with his a pat on his chest. “You left your family in Seattle to live here.” His deep brown eyes skirted over the interior of their modest apartment with a condescending smirk. “It can’t get any more obvious than that. You came here to start anew. That is why I implore you to take the money and let my client provide for you.”
Sookie lowered her eyes on the table as she gripped the hem of her purple sundress.
Hang on, she begged, hang in there, please.
“Miss Stackhouse?” Atty. Cataliades poked.
Hadley kept mum as she studied Sookie’s expression. Sookie didn’t have to meet Hadley’s gaze to tell that her cousin was getting agitated as well, ready to pounce at the pot-bellied lawyer in front of them.
Sookie lifted her eyes back to the attorney. “I won’t take it,” was her quiet response.
Desmond Cataliades shook his head with a reproaching tsk. “I strongly suggest you think about my proposition carefully, Miss Stackhouse. You do not want to make an enemy of my client. Mrs. Northman can be very convincing. She will find a way to make sure she gets what she wants.”
Sookie stayed still. The threats did not surprise her. Right now, she was more concerned with the intense pain that shot up her belly.
Be still, little one. It’ll be over soon. I won’t let her hurt you.
“What do you say, Miss Stackhouse?” the lawyer prodded after a brief pause.
“Get out,” Sookie spat in a barely discernible voice.
“Get the hell out of here,” Sookie repeated, stressing each word through clenched jaw. Hadley was already out of her seat as she bolted to the door. “I’m not for sale. Neither is my dignity. And if I ever see you or any of her flunkies here, I will call the police and charge y’all for harassment. Am I clear?”
The lawyer pursed his lips as he peeled himself off the chair and buttoned his blazer. “You’re making a terrible mistake,” he offered as he grabbed his black attaché case from the table. Hadley, who had been holding the door wide open, shot him a contemptuous glare before she slammed the door behind him.
Sookie’s hands clutched the edge of the table, her knuckles turning white.
“Who needs an evil twin if you have an evil step grandmother, huh?” Hadley quipped as she marched toward the table.
Sookie didn’t respond as she kept her head low, her eyes pinched shut.
“Sook?” Hadley asked, a sense of alarm in her voice. “What’s wrong?”
Sookie counted the seconds in her head. Ticking off the time it would take for the lawyer to go down the three flights of stairs to exit the building.
“Had,” she finally choked raising her head and opening her eyes to meet Hadley’s, “something’s wrong with the baby. I think I need to go to the hospital.”
Sookie didn’t need to look down on her legs to know she was bleeding as warm, thick liquid gushed out of her, soaking her undergarment.
She could see Hadley’s lips moving but she could understand nothing.
She could feel the map of skin on Hadley’s shuddering, ice-cold palm against her temple.
“Sook?” Hadley pinched her shoulder lightly. “Say something, sweetie.”
The tubes of fluorescent lights were bright above her. Too bright. She could hear people talking in hushed tones but the noises they were making were deafening. She wished they would shut the hell up. It was making her head throb.
She couldn’t feel her legs. What the hell was wrong with me?
Hadley waved her hand over her face. “Sook? Can you hear me?”
She tried to nod. The slight movement was all the reaction Hadley needed as she breathed a sigh of relief.
“Oh, thank God.”
“What happened?” She could barely recognize her own croaky voice. How long had she been out? She was parched. She wanted to lift herself up but Hadley’s firm hand on her shoulder was keeping her down.
Hadley’s chin trembled as she bit her lower lip. The pain in Hadley’s eyes was all the answer she needed.
“You lost a lot of blood, Sook,” Hadley started gently, softening the blow. “They did an ultrasound and,” she paused to strangle another sob, “there was no more heartbeat. I asked them to check again and again but -”
Hadley lost all semblance of control as she broke into sobs, her hand over her mouth.
The numbness went away as it began to sink in. She pinched her eyes shut again willing Hadley away – willing everything to disappear.
This isn’t happening, she pleaded mutely.
Halleigh Robinson, the resident gynecologist – a warm Southern woman in her forties with long black hair and hazel eyes – told Sookie what Hadley couldn’t.
Dr. Robinson, as calmly as she could, relayed that she had to perform an emergency D&C – dilation and curettage – on her to control the bleeding. She had been given an epidural anesthesia to numb the lower half of her body, which explained the lack of sensation in her legs. The D&C procedure, which removed the remaining tissue in her womb, wasn’t invasive but because of Sookie’s massive bleeding, she would have to stay overnight for observation.
A few hours ago there was something inside her. A life, waiting to be nurtured. Now, it was nothing but tissue, a lump of crimson flesh that would be poked and studied later in pathology.
Sookie just stared at the doctor. They had all been very consoling. But no amount of comforting words could silence the screaming in her head.
It was all her fault. She had one job and she failed. Her blood was so toxic that it poisoned her own child. She wanted to cry but no tears came. All she could do was lie down and stay still. Like a fucking invalid.
“Do you want me to call Eric?” Hadley asked when the doctor left them in the recovery room.
She wanted to nod yes. Tell Hadley to call him, ‘yes, call him now!’ But could she really be so cruel? Could she subject him to the kind of torture she was suffering from, too? What would be the point?
The silence dragged on before she finally shook her head and whispered, “Don’t.”
Hadley didn’t argue. Sookie was thankful for that. Hadley didn’t even try to convince her to inform Pam or her mother. She must have understood that it was Sookie’s decision to let her family know of her unborn child’s demise.
Sookie stayed in the hospital for two days with Dr. Robinson encouraging her to seek counselling. It was pathetic really, how even a stranger could tell she needed professional help.
Arlene Fowler, her employer from the diner, visited her in the hospital and assured her that her job would be waiting for her when she was ready to come back. Arlene gave her a few more days off. She mouthed a soft ‘thanks’ all the while knowing she would never come back to that restaurant again.
Her life in Brooklyn ended on the operating table.
Sookie couldn’t take the pitiful looks and the heavy sighs anymore. She knew they meant well but she was not a charity case. Not for Hadley, for Arlene or most especially for Lilith.
The small person that was half of her and half of him, the one she didn’t know existed until last night, had taken residence inside her in more ways than one. She didn’t even know if the child would be a he or a she. There was no way to find out now.
Sorry I wasn’t strong enough to keep you.
Lilith found a way to get what she wanted. By sheer chance or by a Faustian bargain, Sookie didn’t care anymore. The only thing she was certain of was that the child that gave her the resolve to fight was gone.
Jogging in the rain seemed like a good idea earlier. Until it wasn’t anymore.
Her lungs tightened as she sucked in another deep breath before she turned the corner to her street. The temperature had dropped to a freezing eleven degrees and with her dark gray tracksuit soaked through and through she could barely keep her teeth from chattering.
She took her running shoes off and left them at the welcome mat before she fished for the duplicate key under one of the potted cactuses at the porch. Before she could insert her key, the door swung open making her jump back in fright.
“What the hell were you thinking jogging in the rain!? You know if you hate yourself so much there are sophisticated ways to end your life and catching pneumonia isn’t one of them,” Pam spat with an arched brow as she pulled Sookie inside the house.
Pam grabbed the brown throw blanket on the sofa and draped it around Sookie’s shaking shoulders.
“What’re you doing here?” Sookie asked. She wanted to run upstairs to take a steaming hot bath but her sister’s hands that were running up and down the length of her arms were keeping her from bolting.
“We’re goin’ out tonight,” Pam replied tersely holding the blanket for her as Sookie peeled her jacket off.
Sookie was starting to warm up as she shimmied out of Pam’s grip. Her wet tracksuit was leaving a puddle of water on her freshly-waxed floor. “As much as I’m tempted to go out with you I have a big date with my bathtub tonight.”
As soon as she was out of her jogging pants, she took the damp blanket from her sister and wrapped herself with it before she darted upstairs to the bathroom.
Pam, of course, followed her after a few minutes. She knew Sookie wouldn’t lock the door as she strolled toward the porcelain sink, wiping the steam off the mirror.
“C’mon Sook, while your so-called husband is still in New York,” Pam whined, meeting her gaze through the mirror. “This might be our last chance to hang out, just the two of us.”
Sookie rolled her eyes. Pam could be very dramatic. Now that she was back in Seattle, it was only a matter of time before they became inseparable again.
“Plus, I want us to celebrate,” Pam added, reapplying her lipstick. For a lesbian, Pam was particularly vain.
“For what?” Sookie asked, untangling her wet hair with her fingers.
Pam pivoted to face her, beaming. “We’ve been approved! We’re havin’ a baby! We’ve already met with the baby momma and she’s about to pop any day now!” she blurted, crossing her index- and middle-finger together.
Sookie lit up in an instant, her cheeks rising in delight. “No way!” Sookie exclaimed, sitting upright.
“Way!” Pam volleyed back with a haughty grin. “Oh honey, you might want to sink back in, I can see your tits through the suds. It’s enough that one sibling has the hots for you.”
Sookie sank in the tub and dropped her gaze, her smile dissolving into a frown.
“What? Too soon?”
Sookie threw her sister a glare.
Pam’s hands shot up in surrender, before she gestured to her zip her lips with a lock and key.
After a pregnant lull, Sookie turned back to Pam, who went back to examining her pristine make-up on the wall mirror. “Where are we goin’, anyway?”
“At the Tavern,” she replied with a mischievous smirk.
“Eric’s bar?” Sookie’s eyes rounded as she started shaking her head, “Nononono!”
“Oh, relax. It’s Eric’s night off. He won’t be there so you can go on with whatever shitty cat-and-mouse game you two were playing,” Pam said with a roll of her eyes. “Besides, it’s your bar, too. Remember the money you kept sending me? I saved it up and used it to buy a share in the pub. And before you get your panties all bunched up, no, he doesn’t know it’s from you. Unless you wanna tell him.”
Sookie swallowed hard. She had no intention to lay claim on that bar.
“Can you see the beauty of it?” Pam drawled looking proud of herself. “The Tavern is like the baby you can never have with him.”
That statement had hit straight home.
It took Sookie half an hour to get ready for her date with her sister and Pam took less time than that to drive them to the Tavern.
The pub had a rustic appeal with bare brick walls and upholstered deep red furniture. Three wide plasma televisions were mounted on the wall, one by the liquor bar and two at both ends of the room. It was an homage to Eric’s hometown, Chicago, with all the sports memorabilia from the Bulls to the Cubs. There were half-moon sofas beside the wall and at least seven tall round tables scattered all over the place.
It was everything Eric. And she felt instantly at home.
“Sook? Is that really you?” Sam Merlotte asked as soon as she emerged through a pair of swinging saloon doors behind Pam. Her sister waved at Sam before she went straight to the backroom.
“Gimme 15 minutes and I’m all yours, ‘kay?” Pam called out to Sookie before she marched to Eric’s office to do the initial inventory for the night.
“Sam!” Sookie screeched with a wave. Sam also lived in First Hill, six blocks from Sookie’s old residence. She dashed behind the bar to give her old friend a hug.
“Hot damn, cher, you’re -” the rest of his sentence got stuck in his throat when he caught sight of the man who just walked in the bar.
Sookie’s brows furrowed before she twisted halfway to follow Sam’s gaze.