I am a new day rising
I’m a brand new sky
to hang the stars upon tonight
I am a little divided
do I stay or run away
and leave it all behind?
Its times like these you learn to live again
its times like these you give and give again
its times like these you learn to love again
its times like these time and time again
~ Times Like These by Foo Fighters
I don’t know what possesses me to attend the funeral of Sergeant Samuel Merlotte. I’ve never attended the funeral for any of the other men or women whose families I have notified. I didn’t know Merlotte, so I cannot say it was out of respect for him. It’s something about his family…fuck, who am I kidding? I’m drawn to his wife. What kind of asshole does it make me that I’m attracted to a grieving widow? It’s not like I can do anything about the attraction; she just lost her husband, something tells me that she’s the type of woman who would be married for life to her husband. Even if I gave it time and then approached her, I don’t think she would have anything to do with me because I was the bearer of bad news.
I put on my dress uniform and head to the cemetery in Spring Lake. I stay in the back so as not to attract attention from the family. I recognize a few people in attendance and nod my head towards them as I am not in the mood to socialize today with anyone all the while I am standing at ease during the entire service. I may not have known Merlotte personally, but he is a brother in arms. He deserves to be respected and honored for both his service and sacrifice.
When it is time for the presentation of the flag, I snap to attention and bring my hand forward in salute. I stay this way until the last chords of ‘Taps’ are heard and then I move to stand at ease again. To me, ‘Taps’ is the most heart-breaking sound ever; it implies lose and being alone. The other mourners begin leaving the burial site, but I stay where I am. My eyes are focused on the widow in the front row. I cannot see much of her, but I know she is wearing a black sleeveless dress and her blonde hair is in a knot at the nape of her neck. The sun has shone on her hair the entire service and it creates a halo; to me she looks like an angel. I need to stop thinking this way about her!
I am so lost in my thoughts about her, that I fail to realize the family has risen from their seats. They are now walking up the aisle towards me; the widow stops when she sees me. I can tell the moment she recognizes me because she gasps and freezes in place. Because I don’t want to hurt her further, I salute her and her son and walk away.
Once I reach my car, I take my hat off and slide inside my Corvette. I start the car and rev the engine and pull out of the parking lot then head for the highway. I need to clear my head; what better way to do that then to go speeding down the highway with my windows open and loud rock music blaring from the radio? I chuckle when my iPod decides to play “Highway to Hell”.
After driving out to Wilmington and back (and one speeding ticket later), I pull into the garage of my house. During the drive, I come to a few decisions about my life. First, I need to put in a request for a job change. I can no longer be the one to tell families that their loved one is not coming back. I’m starting to take the position very personally and I cannot remain objective any more. Second, I have to leave the Merlotte family alone. They need time to grieve and heal; I don’t want to intrude on that, I don’t like the idea of leaving the family on its own, but I’m not their protector, Hell, I’m not even a friend.
I walk into my bedroom and strip out of my uniform, turn on the shower and wait for the water to heat up. As I’m waiting, I check my phone and see I have a few messages. Some are from Alcide, one’s from my sister, and one’s from Dawn. I text Dawn and tell her I’ll be over in an hour. As I step into the shower I think that maybe she’s exactly the distraction I need tonight.
Life is going great for me. My superiors granted my request to change job positions and I am now an instructor at the U.S. Army John F. Kennedy Special Warfare Center and School. I’m instructing other service men and women in skills they will need to survive and succeed on the battlefield. I know at some point I’ll be sent back to Afghanistan, but I’m ok with that. It’s what I’ve been trained to do.
Dawn and I have dated for six months now. She has hinted that she thinks we should take our relationship to the next level, but I’m reluctant. I don’t think she fully understands what it means to be with a soldier. Right now, it’s a piece of cake because she has easy access to me. I don’t know if she’s the type of girl who can handle when I go overseas or something worse.
When I think about taking my relationship with Dawn to the next level, I can’t help but think of Mrs. Merlotte. I haven’t seen her since the day of her husband’s funeral. I swore to myself I wouldn’t seek her out. But thoughts of her and her son drift through my mind every now and then. I wonder how they are doing. I wonder if they even stayed in the area. I hope that they are moving on with their life and that things are getting better for them.
It’s a sunny autumn day and I decide to go for a jog around the park. Normally I work out in the gym with Alcide, but I’ve been cooped up at work all week and I feel the need to be outdoors. Plus, my physical fitness test is coming up and I want to make sure I have no issues with the two-mile run. Not that I think I will, but it never hurts to be ready.
Since it is such a nice day, the park is more crowded than normal and I find an area under a tree so that I can do my stretches; don’t want to pull a muscle or get a cramp while running. I find the spot where I want to begin running and set my watch which will track my running time and distance. I begin running at a steady pace; it preserves energy and helps make certain I do not suffer an injury. My watch beeps once I have hit the two-mile mark and I look down at my watch; I’m pleased with my time, but I know I can do better. So I’ll need to start jogging more outdoors than doing it on the treadmill to better my time. I slow my pace down to begin my cooling off exercises and as I am walking up the path towards my car I notice a little boy riding his bike. He’s pedaling as fast as his little legs will take him and I can’t help but smile. I hear the boy’s mother call out that he’s too far and see him try to turn without slowing down; however, both the boy and the bike topple over. I hurry to the boy’s side to make sure he is alright. I pull the bike off the kid and set it to the side and help him sit up.
“Are you alright, Little Man?” I ask as I pull the helmet off his head. Thank God his mother made him wear a helmet; that could have been one nasty injury to the head. The poor kid is sobbing and can’t even answer me so I run my hands down his arms to make sure there are no broken bones. The kid eventually points to his leg and I see his jeans are ripped and he has skinned his knee.
Before I can take a look, the boy’s mother drops to her knees next to me and begins working on the kid’s injury. From the looks of it, she is an old pro at handling the situation when her son gets injured. She carries a first aid kit in her purse. Boys will be boys…
The boy is still crying and hiccupping. I look back at him and smile reassuringly, this kid looks so familiar, but I don’t know why. I don’t really hang out with any kids so I turn my head to the mother and watch her. Her face is hidden by the curtain of blond hair that hangs down her face and side. She has delicate hands that work quickly but gently to take care of her son. I notice the plain gold wedding band and small engagement ring on her finger.
“Aww baby are you ok?” she asks with her focus on her son.
I freeze when I hear that voice, my face is expressionless. I know that voice; it has haunted me for months.
Mrs. Merlotte turns her head to me with a smile that quickly freezes on her face. I think I see horror fill her eyes when she realizes it’s me.
I shift so that I am now standing. “I’m glad he’s not hurt.” I take a few steps away from them when I hear her voice call out.
“Wait!” She has also risen and is holding her son in her arms. “I don’t even know your name.”
“Eric, Eric Northman.”
She smiles softly at me and asks, “Rank?”
“Well, it’s nice to finally know your name Lt. Northman.” Shifting her son to one arm, she extends her right hand out to me. I take it in my own and grip it tightly as we shake. She has such tiny hands, but I can tell there is strength to them.
She puts her son down and says to him, “Hunter, can you say hello to Lt. Northman?”
The little boy looks up at me with wide eyes. I must seem like a giant to a little kid. He drops his mother’s hand and salutes me with his right hand. I cannot help but smile and salute him back.
“He’s a great kid, Mrs. Merlotte.”
She smiles at me sadly, “It’s Stackhouse, actually; Sookie Stackhouse. I never took my husband’s last name.”
“Oh. I’m sorry I didn’t realize,” I mumble. Something about this woman makes me feel like an uncoordinated teenager.
“It’s ok. I wasn’t exactly at my best the day we met,” she says as her smile falters. I can see her eyes darken with emotion, but somehow she pushes past it. “What brings you to the park today, Lieutenant?”
“PT,” I say quickly. “I’ve got my exam coming up soon and I wanted to make sure I’d have no problems with the run.”
She laughs. “Something tells me you’ll do just fine with those long legs of yours.”
I grin at her, “Yes I suppose that does help. Still, I can’t have any of my students thinking they can beat me out on the course.”
She cocks her head to the side, “Students?”
“I teach at the JFK Center.” I am about to explain what that is, but she waves me off.
“I know what that is. Do you like it?”
“It’s sure as hell better than what I was doing.” All the color drains from my face as I realize what I said. I cannot FUCKING believe I just said that! I am such a dick! I want to punch myself in the face. I’m about to apologize to her, but her laughter catches me off guard.
I look at her in puzzlement. I thought for sure I had just offended her. She takes one look at my face and goes off into another round of laughter. “Oh, I’m sorry,” she says wiping at her eyes. “I shouldn’t laugh at you, but your face was priceless! I cannot even begin to imagine how hard your previous job must have been for you. I’ve often regretted not knowing your name, because I wanted to thank you.”
I’m dumbstruck. “Thank me for what?”
She smiles at me again, and steps forward to squeeze my hand. “I wanted to thank you because of how compassionate you were that day. It was hard enough to deal with what you were telling me, but in hindsight I really appreciated how human you were about everything. I’ve heard stories from other widows and widowers where the notifying officer was less than human, shall we say. I also wanted to thank you for coming to Sam’s funeral. It meant a lot to me and Hunter.”
I am speechless. I cannot even begin to think of something to say. She reaches down and grabs Hunter’s hand again. “Well, we need to be going. We have somewhere else to go today. Thank you again, Lt. Northman, for everything,” she says softly. I stand where I am watching the two blond heads until they disappear from my sight.
AN: Information about Eric’s new job is from Fort Bragg’s website. Click on Organizations and you can find the U.S. Army John F. Kennedy Special Warfare Center and School.