No no no no no no NOOOO!!!
The wall of guilt hit me just as quickly as the reality Adele was dead, knowing it was my fault. If I hadn’t been so eager to go celebrate with Sookie, then we would’ve been there. We could’ve stopped whoever had done this to her.
Adele would still be alive.
“Take her back to Shreveport,” Corbett begged. “Make up an excuse and put her back in the car right now. Call in an anonymous tip about Momma.”
“Eric?” Sookie asked with growing concern. “What’s wrong?”
I was frozen where I stood, not knowing what to do and could only imagine whatever it was she was seeing on my face while my shame and remorse ate away at me. I doubted I could convince her to go back to Shreveport out of the blue and really, I didn’t want to. I didn’t want to leave Adele’s body for Jason to find. I didn’t want Sookie to find out she was dead when we were back in the city. It wouldn’t be fair to either one of them and she’d be ten times as upset finding out her grandmother had been murdered while we’d been gone. Thinking Adele had passed away in her sleep had been bad enough.
Knowing she hadn’t was a thousand times worse.
I could only stare back at her, wondering what I was going to tell her. I didn’t want her to see whatever it was that awaited us on the other side of the door. But how could I keep her from going inside without telling her why?
“Don’t let her go in there, Eric,” Corbett warned. “Momma’s…she…” he started before he got too choked up to continue.
“Calm down Corbett,” Adele soothed. “They’re not going anywhere.” And even in death she had the grace to smile at me with nothing but love in her eyes when my own met hers. “You can really see me…” she marveled and added, “I always knew there was something special about you, but this is just too wonderful for words.”
Sure. Because they weren’t the ones faced with having to tell Sookie she couldn’t go inside because her grandmother’s murdered body was in there.
“Sookie doesn’t know, does she?” Adele asked and because she was also a smart woman, she looked to Corbett for the answer likely realizing I couldn’t give her one. He only confirmed her suspicions with a shake of his head.
And all it did was make me feel even worse because I could then see the tears on his face.
“What is it Eric?” Sookie asked, sounding even more worried.
When I didn’t say anything, Adele offered, “It’s okay Eric. Corbett’s just being overprotective. It’s inevitable that she’ll see me anyway and honestly, if I wasn’t lying on the kitchen floor, it would probably look like I was just sleeping.”
That got Corbett talking again when he yelled out, “SLEEPING? WITH SOME ASSHOLE’S HANDPRINTS ALL OVER YOUR NECK? SLEEPING?”
“Now you watch your tone, young man,” she chastised him. And if the situation weren’t so awful, I’d probably laugh. But knowing she had been strangled made it somewhat of an easier pill to swallow because I would hate for Sookie to see Adele covered in blood.
That picture would stain her memories for far longer than it would the floor.
Sookie was still staring at me looking more and more concerned, but I had to agree with Adele. Even if I blurted out that I could see dead people and she believed me that both her dead father and now dead grandmother were telling me what was inside, there still wouldn’t be any way for me to stop her from going in.
She was going to see it no matter what.
But I couldn’t let her go in and get blindsided. Even if it meant I would end up losing her in the end.
I loved her enough to put her wellbeing before my own.
I ended up pulling her with me and sat us down on the porch steps, hoping for once in my life the rumors about my weirdness had reached her ears. I started small by asking, “Sookie? Have you ever heard anything about me? Rumors back at the station?”
She stared back at me looking both amused and perplexed as she answered, “Well rumor has it you were spotted in a tree a few weeks back, K I S S I N G a gal that looked coincidentally just like me. It’s not true is it? Because I seem to remember you being in the back of your van at the time of the alleged K I S S I N G incident. I alibied you out. There’s a BOLO out on your doppelganger tree sitter though. He’s still on the loose.”
Christ, she was killing me. I loved her so fucking much and now I was moments away from losing her.
And it was killing me.
Her amusement changed back into concern when I didn’t smile at her joke, but I cutoff her upcoming question by saying, “No, I meant other kinds of rumors. Ones about me being…strange. Maybe Flood said something to you about me?”
He was my one good shot. I’d gone to him and told him about Corbett’s murderer and where both he and the weapon could be found. He may have convinced himself it had all been a drunken dream, but I hoped he would have at least said something to Sookie about it. After all, Corbett had been his partner and her father. She was his partner now and she was dating me, so he must have said something to her about it all.
At least, I hoped.
Realization dawned in her eyes and she stared back at me, seeming to brace herself as she said, “The Colonel…he…well, we were talking one day, not long after I joined the force. He was telling me how proud my dad would’ve been and we got to talking about his murder. I didn’t know he’d been slowly drinking himself to death back then, but he said…well, you did come up in conversation.”
When I didn’t say anything or look confused as to why he would mention me, she swallowed hard and cut to the chase by asking, “Is it true?”
This was it.
This was the moment it could all come together or irrevocably fall apart.
While I was choking on the confirmation I was about to give Sookie, I heard Corbett in the background quickly filling Adele in on what was going on and then I heard her say, “Tell her Eric. It’ll make things easier for you and she’ll understand. I’m sure she will. And if she doesn’t, then I’ll figure out a way to whoop her tail from the grave.”
I forced myself to keep my expression sedate while Corbett chuckled in the background, knowing Sookie would only think I was even crazier if I laughed now, when nothing about the situation we were in was funny.
“Is it true, Eric?” she repeated more forcefully, forcing my hand and forcing me to confirm, “Yes.”
She silently stared back at me and it was deafening. The last time I’d outed myself it was to my parents and their only response was to put me in therapy and treat me like a pariah, counting down the days until I turned eighteen and left for college.
And her continued silence had me preparing for a similar response.
“You…” she finally began, “you went to the Colonel? You told him where the killer was hiding and where the murder weapon could be found?”
I’d also told Flood how I knew both of those things and only convinced him I wasn’t batty by telling him what he and Corbett had been talking about in the car right before they’d gone into the store.
Sookie had been giving Corbett the silent treatment for a couple of days because he’d forbidden her from going to an un-chaperoned party the weekend before. He’d laughingly told Flood she was stubborn enough he might not hear a peep from her for a month and said he might have to get her that puppy she’d always wanted to get back in her good graces.
“Because the ghost of my dead father told you,” she said, with both her tone and eyes hard.
And there it was. The sound of disbelief. A prelude to the sound of silence when she left me sitting there on the porch because she thought I was batty. It was inevitable.
As was my answer.
Pulling back the hammer before I squeezed the trigger on my suicide by truth, I sighed, “Yes.”
She still looked disbelieving and I knew her well enough by then I could tell she was going over the evidence in her mind, trying to make sense of it all. She hadn’t bolted, which was a good sign, but I wasn’t counting my chickens just yet.
“But…I thought…he…he knew about Momma. He was one of the only ones we trusted enough to tell. I…I thought he was just trying to make me feel better. Making up a story about you so I would think she wasn’t the only one.”
And there was my opening for suicide by truth, part two.
“Sookie,” I said softly. “I’m afraid your mother can’t really see or hear you father.” Hoping to soften the blow, I added, “But if it makes you feel any better, he visits her all of the time. He’s been there when we’ve gone to see her and he sits in the chair she thinks he’s in and talks to her too. He still loves her and he’s never left any of you.”
“But,” she argued. “You said you never met my father. How would you…how could you…”
Pulling the technicality out of thin air, I hedged, “I said I never met your father when he was on the force and that was the truth.” Sighing again, I admitted, “I didn’t meet him until after he died. He walked into the morgue while I was doing his autopsy.”
“What?” she nearly shrieked. “Eric, if you’re joking this isn’t funny.”
No. It wasn’t funny. Nor was what I still had yet to tell her, so I said, “I’m not joking. I wouldn’t joke about something like this. In fact I’m fucking terrified right now, but I’ve wanted to tell you for a while. Way back when you told me you had been keeping tabs on me through Maxine Fortenberry, I wanted to tell you because I’d known about you all along too. Your father never shuts up about you. And he was proud when you made the force and he’s still proud of you now. He kept trying to get me to meet you, telling me we’d be perfect for each other. In fact, up until you came along, I’d say he was my best friend.”
I could hear both Corbett and Adele aww’ing in the background, but my focus remained on Sookie as she asked, “So why are you telling me now? Is he here?”
By her suspicious tone of voice I could tell she still didn’t believe me. It broke my fucking heart that she didn’t believe me, but I wouldn’t lie to her, so I answered, “Yes.”
Her eyes snapped back to mine and it was then I could tell I was breaking her fucking heart too.
And it was killing me all over again.
Her blue eyes narrowed back at mine when she suddenly blurted out, “When we were little, daddy used to take me and Jason fishing every Sunday after church. One day Jason was grounded for egging old Jesse Compton’s house, so daddy took me without him. Where did we really go?”
“That old man was pissed!” Corbett chuckled, while Adele chided, “Language!”
“Yes ma’am,” he chuckled again, and said, “On the way to Wallace Lake, Sookie let it slip that she wanted to see a new movie that had just come out. But since we normally only went to that kind of thing as a family, she knew Jason would never want to go see it. So I took my baby girl to see The Little Mermaid and on our way home, we stopped by the market and I bought the biggest bass they had and told Jason she reeled it in all on her own. Talk. About. Pissed.”
“Language!” Adele chuckled.
I couldn’t help the small smile on my face when I repeated the story back to Sookie and I doubted she could help the tears that slowly trickled down her face.
“He’s really here. You can see him. Hear him.”
Even though her words didn’t form a question, I knew they required an answer and replied, “Yes.”
The dam on her tear ducts opened wide with the tears suddenly streaming down her face as she threw herself in my arms and cried, “I was being a bitch when he was killed. I hadn’t talked to him for days because I was a snotty little shit. I hadn’t told him I loved him that morning when he left for work. He said it to me, but I turned my nose up at him and didn’t even bother to watch him walk out the door. I…I…I never got another chance.” Turning her head fractionally, she sobbed softly into the night air, “I’m so sorry daddy. I’m so sorry.”
Corbett appeared in my line of sight when he knelt down next to her and moved his face inches from hers, saying, “I know you loved me baby girl.” Glancing at me, he added, “You tell her that I always knew she loved me and no matter how much of a little shit she could be, I always loved her too.”
I whispered his words into her ear verbatim, adding to it what he’d told Flood that day in the car, and asked if a puppy would have helped his cause. It was enough to make her snort in between cries and when she calmed down some another realization seemed to dawn on her.
Her eyes grew wide and her cheeks flushed red as she pulled back and sputtered out, “Oh my god. He heard me, didn’t he? What I said about you and me and…oh my god…”
Oh my god.
I couldn’t agree more, but for an entirely different reason, already knowing he’d heard worse from her on the night of the Hungry Hungry Hippo incident.
Sookie actually believed me.
I couldn’t be sure until then. Everything about our conversation had been emotionally charged and I’d still been waiting for the other shoe to drop. For her sensibilities to kick in and call me a liar no matter how many things I knew about her that I couldn’t possibly know. For her to at least look at me like I was a freak and run for those hills she was worried I might’ve headed to earlier that day when she told me she loved me.
And while it had been an unexpected declaration from her at the time, the bomb I just dropped was considerably bigger.
But she didn’t run.
Because she still loved me.
“Is that why you told me? So I would shut up?” she asked through her hands, with her face now buried in them.
I was still reeling from the fact she believed me, but her questions made me sober up quickly. I still had another bomb waiting to drop, so I braced myself for what was to come and answered, “No. I told you because your dad isn’t the only one here.”
“Oh yeah?” she asked, finally looking up at me. “Did I just embarrass myself in front of my grandfather too?” Smiling and looking out over the porch and yard, she threw out a quick, “Sorry Peepaw!”
I didn’t want to do it. God knows I didn’t want to do it, but it had to be done, so I took her hand in my own and said softly, “No Sookie…I…I just didn’t want you to be blindsided, but…Adele is out here too.”
“What?” she asked with her face screwing up and her eyes darting around again before she put the pieces together and whispered, “But that would mean…”
Her eyes went wide as she bolted off of the steps and threw open the front door yelling out, “GRAN!”
I couldn’t have caught her if I’d tried, so I followed behind her helplessly as she ran down the hallway to Adele’s bedroom. Already knowing she would find the bed empty, I waited for her by the kitchen doorway and heard her yell out, “GRAN!” again as she checked the bathroom too. When she ran back moments later, I caught her by the shoulders and said, “She’s in the kitchen.”
“Gran!” she cried out as soon as we saw her and Sookie flung herself down onto the floor beside her body. Adele had been right when she’d said if she hadn’t been lying on the kitchen floor it would’ve looked like she was asleep.
And I’d been to enough crime scenes to know this one was off.
I could see the handprints Corbett had yelled about surrounding Adele’s throat, but the bruises formed by the killer’s fingers were on the front of her neck. Indicating she’d been strangled from behind. Which made it all the more odd to find her body lying face up, with her eyes closed and her hands resting together over her stomach.
Her body had been staged. And given the peaceful appearance they had left her in and the fact she was strangled from behind, I would bet the house the killer knew her. Knew her and felt guilty about killing her.
I knelt down beside Sookie just as Corbett and Adele entered the kitchen through the closed back door. Even feeling horrible over Adele’s murder and Sookie’s reaction to it, I smiled a little when I heard Adele say, “Neat!” being able to pass through objects.
“Who?” Sookie sobbed. “Why? Why would anyone want to…Oh god…Eric. If we didn’t stop and…if I hadn’t wanted to…we would’ve been here. We could’ve stopped it!” She sank down and hugged Adele’s body, crying out how sorry she was all over again.
And having already had the same thoughts, it was killing me all over again.
“Is she…” she stuttered through her hitched breathing. “Is Gran here? In the room with us?”
“Yes,” I answered softly, while running my hand up and down her back.
“I’m so sorry Gran,” she cried again, hugging her grandmother in the only way she could now.
Adele spoke up saying, “You tell Sookie I don’t blame her one bit for what happened to me. It’s my own fault for not locking the doors, but we’re out in the middle of nowhere and I figured no one would want to bother with an old biddy like me. I lived a long and happy life. In fact, I barely had the time to be startled before everything went black. It didn’t hurt at all and when I came to I was out on the porch. I never saw anybody else and I didn’t know I could walk through walls to get back in the house. At least not until Corbett showed up. Tell her that part is neat!”
Once again, I repeated the words spoken to me verbatim. Sookie didn’t seem to feel any better until I got to the part about it being ‘Neat!’ and she pulled away from Adele’s body to look at me, saying, “She would think it’s neat.” Turning her swollen and red rimmed eyes onto the as-far-as-she-could-see empty room surrounding us, she added, “Pardon the rest of us for not feeling awed just yet by your new superpowers, Gran.”
While she had her one-sided argument with her grandmother, something Adele had said struck a chord, so I ran outside to the car and got a pair of latex gloves from my bag. When I came back in I leaned down and checked her body, carefully lifting her head with one hand while running my other along her cervical column. I confirmed my suspicions out loud by saying, “It feels like her neck was broken at the C2 through C5 vertebrae where the spinal column is the most delicate. An x-ray could confirm it, but it’s likely her spinal cord was severed completely.” I gently placed her head back the way I had found it and looked at Sookie saying, “She would’ve died instantly.”
And whoever had killed her had big hands.
Stray tears were still trickling down her cheeks, so I took my gloves off to wipe them away before pulling her back into my arms.
“We need to call 911,” I softly reminded her, knowing it needed to be done.
“And Jason,” she sniffled while more tears made their way down her cheeks.
“Do you want me to make the calls?” I asked, willing to do anything to make this night easier for her.
She nodded against my chest, but before I could pull my phone out of my pocket she looked up at me and whispered, “Thank you.”
“You don’t have to thank me,” I replied automatically. “I’d do anything for you.”
“No,” she shook her head softly, while more tears welled in her eyes. “Not for that. Thank you for sharing your secret with me. Thank you for ending the guilt I still carried with me now that I know for sure my daddy knew I loved him. And thank you for being so amazing that because of you I know my Gran didn’t suffer. That she wasn’t scared in her final moments or blamed me for her death. Just like when my daddy died, the guilt would’ve eaten me alive. But now, because of you, instead of wondering about what was going through her mind when she was killed, I know she’s wandering around through walls because it’s neat.”
She smiled gratefully through her tears before burying her head back against my shoulder and whispered, “I love you Eric.”
I still couldn’t believe she actually believed me. I was sure I had an ‘I told you so’ coming to me from Corbett, but I would take it. Gladly. Because now, as awful as the reasons were that I felt I had to tell Sookie about my curse, I knew we would be okay. If she could accept this part of me – knowing the real me – and even find a way to be grateful for what had mostly been the bane of my existence, then there was nothing we couldn’t overcome.
Hugging her gently, I silently thanked God for the blond miracle in my arms and whispered in return, “I love you too Sookie.”
I hoped it would be enough to see her through the long night we still had ahead of us. But no matter what happened, at least we both knew we would be facing it together.