Eric began to tell me what happened to Hunter the previous night.
“Hunter was spanked,” he explained. “The boy invited me in after the deed was done, but I-” Eric paused. “It was too late. Rest assured, lover. He is fine now, but it brought back memories I had forgotten; my own children from when I was human,” he added, as he noticed my puzzled expression. “It feels like he is my own flesh and blood. I feel this powerful, overwhelming need to protect the boy. I felt helpless when I could not.”
After I got over the brief horror of hearing Remy’s cousin had spanked Hunter, I was incredibly relieved to hear the boy was fine and had invited Eric into the house. Eric gave me a comforting hug; but I had to hide the smile that threatened to spread across my face. Eric had fallen in love with Hunter too. That made me very happy. “I’m glad that you were there for him. Did Hunter say why they spanked him?”
“Yes, they told him he was bad and he needed to be punished. Do not worry. I am going to watch over him to make sure they do not do this again. I will have my best people watching him-day and night,” he tried to reassure me. “I understand why you have these feelings that you do. I will hurt anybody who harms Hunter,” he vowed.
“I know you will,” I told him approvingly.
These strong instincts were part of the reason I wished Eric could be the father of my children. Too bad it wasn’t physically possible-he was the kind of man who protected what was his and did it well. “Does that mean that I’ll be seeing less of you?” I teased.
“Just try to get rid of me now, Miss Sookie Stackhouse,” he winked at me. “This does work well with my plans to investigate the V trafficking…” he mused.
“How so?” I wondered.
“Well, the dealer at the club did tell me that his source of V came from around that area. He did not name any names, but it would bring me closer to finding out who is behind it. I can watch over Hunter and do some investigating at the same time,” he explained.
“Oh, Mr. Northman…a vampire multi-tasker,” I teased and gave him a wink.
“You should know,” he winked back at me. “You know that I can multi-task in a number of ways.”
Of course the resulting mental images aroused us both, you could guess what happened next…and yes, he proved once again, that he was great at multi-tasking.
The next evening was the first appointment with the judge and Remy’s cousins. I was extremely nervous. I hoped we would make a good first impression on the officials.
I picked out a dress that was stylish but, not too revealing. Eric looked amazing in his dress shirt with no tie, black dress pants, and blazer. He wore his shirt with the top buttons at little bit undone, so I had a glimpse of his naked chest. He chose to wear his hair in a ponytail. I had to fight to keep my thoughts away from taking him to our bed and making love to him over and over again. Eric, put simply, could wear anything and make it look good.
Eric and I met with Mr. Cataliades outside of the room at the courthouse. He looked at us with approval because he had told us what to wear. We had to make it look like we had put an effort into our appearance, without it being too overdone. I was glad he approved.
“Remember, any questions about tonight’s appointment, now is the time to ask them.” The demon lawyer had coached both of us as to what was expected, but he wanted to make sure.
Eric and I both nodded our heads. “I can’t think of anything,” I told him, as Eric nodded his head in understanding. I knew he was just as nervous as I was. We held hands while we waited.
The court appointed secretary came out and called us into the office. Following her in, we sat down at a long table in the conference room. I had never had been in a courthouse before. It wasn’t anything like I had pictured on the court shows that I had watched on TV, but the room did remind me of the one in show, Ally McBeal, although not as modern. This was more conservative and the furnishings were antiques.
We were the first to arrive. We took our seats along one side of the long table, I poured myself a drink from one of the pitchers of water in the middle.
Mr. Cataliades emptied out the contents of his briefcase and placed them on top of the table.
I sat there, acting all fidgety and nervous. I couldn’t keep still.
After a few minutes, Remy’s cousin and his wife came in with their own lawyer. I watched them, still dressed in frumpy clothing and bad attitude, as they sat down across from us. I could feel Eric tense up. He sat there and watched them, both cautiously and prepared to fight. I had to reach over and squeeze his hand underneath the table; attempting to calm him and remind him of the situation. If Eric acted on the images that I could picture in his mind, then we would definitely not gain custody of Hunter, not that I blamed him for thinking those thoughts, but this wasn’t the time or place.
They stared at Eric, as if they had never seen a vampire before. Maybe they hadn’t. But I could tell that his presence had surprised them. They couldn’t have known I would bring a vampire into this.
They glared at me. I could feel their intense hatred, I had no clue as to what I had done to cause it, but it was there. I could easily read it in their thoughts too. They were not happy to see me; or the vampire seated next to me.
The judge entered the room, wearing a pantsuit rather than the robe I was expecting. I was glad that she was a woman, but she had a strict look on her face. She looked like she was in her fifties and looked almost like Judge Judy, except her hair was white.
“First of all, my name is Judge Hildebrandt. I’ll be watching over these proceedings and I will make the final judgment on your case. These preliminary sessions are for me to find out what your goals are when it comes to the matter of…” she looked at the file on the table in front of her. “One, Hunter Savoy, who’s father has recently been declared deceased. It’s my understanding that his mother is also deceased, so that leaves it up to the courts to decide where Hunter Savoy will reside.”
She wore reading glasses. She looked up over the rims at all of us seated at the table. “Are there any further questions?” She paused. We all shook our heads. “Then let us proceed…”
Each of our lawyers began to address the judge; how each couple would be the most suitable parents and why we wanted to become his guardians. Eric and I sat across the table from Remy’s cousins, Dwayne and Sally Savoy, and studied them. Dwayne and Sally sat there and glared at us from across the table.
“…isn’t that right, Miss Stackhouse?” I heard Mr. Cataliades ask.
Since I hadn’t been paying attention (my thoughts were mostly on what Dwayne and Sally were thinking about) I hadn’t heard what he was asking me. “I’m terribly sorry, what were you wondering?” I asked him.
Mr. Cataliades glared at me, but with curiosity, before he repeated his question. “I was telling the judge that you have a special bond with the boy. I was asking you to verify that.”
I nodded my head. “Oh, yes. We’ve only met a few times, but we’re really close. I feel like I’m the best person to look after him,” I replied.
Eric squeezed my hand with encouragement.
“I guess I should explain better,” I said, as I noticed that the judge was gazing at me strangely. “We share a common bond, one that is very rare,” I continued.
Eric’s presence gave me the inner strength that I needed to proceed. I was very nervous. I didn’t want to tell the judge about the telepathy, but I wanted her to know that we have a deep bond. “It’s a…family trait that’s passed down on my side of the family. I also promised Hunter I would look after him.”
“Forgive me for interrupting…but isn’t that a little precipitate? And what kind of family trait are you talking about?” The judge asked.
I turned towards her and nodded my head. “Yes, I know it is, but Hunter wants me to look after him. He feels safe in my presence. I’m sorry, but isn’t that most important for a child to feel safe and loved?” I pointed out. “I don’t think he feels that way while staying at the Savoys. I mean, no offense…”
I faced Dwayne and Sally from across the table. “But I live in a loving, well-kept home. It was passed down from generation to generation in my family. I have never been in trouble.” Not that the law knew about anyways. “I work as a barmaid and make good money in tips.” I turned to Eric. “Eric owns a bar himself, and we are financially stable.” Okay, so I told a slight fib, in my case. I couldn’t really tell them the truth. Eric did have a lot of money and I knew that he would provide anything that Hunter might need in the future. I turned back to the Savoys.
“I honestly don’t know how you make your living, but it’s not apparent in how you dress and in the car you drive. Are you able to provide the things he needs, as we will? If that sounds condescending, I’m sorry. I’m only going by what Hunter has told me and my own impression of you. I know that for some reason you seem to hate me and I don’t know why.”
I shrugged. I looked over at the judge and hoped that I didn’t sound like a complete snob. “The family trait Hunter and I share is…kind of hard to explain,” I told her. “All I’m sayin’ is I hope you will consider all of this, when you make your decision.”
Both Dwayne and Sally glared at me from across the table. I could feel the heat in their gaze and hear their angry thoughts in their heads.
“I see what you’re saying, Miss Stackhouse,” the judge spoke up. “However, my concern with you is that you are unmarried even though, as you say…you have this man with you.”
She looked at Eric. “I know that you’re a vampire, Mr. Northman. How is that safe for a young, impressionable child?”
I felt angry that she was tossing the fact that Eric was a vampire into this, but I could understand. There was a lot of ignorance and prejudice against them, similar to the racial prejudices of the past.
“I do not take my business home,” Eric responded next to me. “I eat away from my home, unless it is synthetic blood. I sleep during the day. I stay out of other peoples’ problems. I have no wish to harm any child, let alone Hunter. ”
“But have you killed?” The judge pointed out, staring at him. “Have you fought? Have you created trouble for anyone who you care about? You drink blood in order to survive. Human blood.”
Eric and I exchanged a look. “I do not see how my past has anything to do with the future. Think about it…how many other parents will outlive their own children?” Eric debated with the judge. He shook his head. “I, not only, have knowledge of history-I have lived it. I have seen the world change very much in the years I have been on this earth. I have seen the advancements in technology and civil rights that no one in this room has.”
Except Mr. Cataliades, we both added to ourselves. He didn’t add that in. I was sure the judge don’t know that Mr. Cataliades was a demon, I wondered what she would think about that in all of her preconceived prejudices.
“I am the perfect person to teach, to care for and protect a young child like Hunter. I have immense strength. I am able to fly. There is more to vampires than killing humans for food, we have our own rules that we must follow and some are stricter than your own human court system. Our Magistrate punishes any vampire who breaks these rules and vampires understand that the punishments can be severe to extreme. I have studied in many different disciplines throughout my life. I can speak nine different languages both fluently and proficiently. How many parents have both the training and the knowledge to guide a young one through life?”
God help me, I wanted to stand up and applaud after Eric had finished. He had debated both perfectly and (judging from the judges’ mind) effectively. I knew that she was thinking about all of what Eric had said. She knew that he had won their debate about vampire rights. She turned her attention to Dwayne and Sally.
“And you…” she spoke to the couple across from us. “While you have done a fine job taking a child in under these circumstances, social services has expressed some concerns with you as well. It’s my understanding that your home is barely acceptable for adults, let alone a child. Do you have the means to raise the child? Do you consider yourselves to be living in a way that might be detrimental to him?”
Neither one had the guts to open up their mouths, but I knew what they were thinking. They were saying, no. It made me happy and want to jump for joy. Ha! I wanted to shout at them, but I knew that would only raise more questions for the judge.
Not finished with us yet, the judge turned her attention back on us. It was like watching a rally at a tennis match.
“Another concern I have with you is that you both work in a bar-like setting. That is improper for an impressionable child such as Hunter Savoy. Who would look after the child while you are both at work? Do you have a plan to send him to the best schools? I’m also concerned that while it’s obvious that you both care for each other. There is no real commitment between the two of you. You are both unmarried. What are your plans for the future?”
Same as with the social worker, I didn’t know how to respond. I looked over at Eric for back up.
“We have a plan,” Eric announced. He wasn’t looking at me, he was looking at the judge. “We are getting married as soon as possible.”
Call me, shocked. Wait a minute…this was news to me. Hadn’t he forgotten something, like asking me, for example? I sat there with my mouth hanging open, catching flies, like my Gran used to say. My heart raced and there were butterflies in my stomach. I stared at him incredulously.
Eric turned to me, with a sheepish expression on his face, as if he suddenly remembered that this was something he should have told me first.
“I am sorry. This was not how I planned it.” He pushed his chair back and knelt down on bended knee. He dug a ring box out of the inside pocket of his jacket. “I have been carrying this in my pocket for a long time now. I was waiting for the perfect moment to ask you because you are a perfect woman. You told me that you wanted this to be memorable, but…” he paused, suddenly sounding unsure. It was completely unlike Eric. He was the most self-assured person I knew. “I wanted to prove to you and everyone else in this room, just how much you mean to me.” Again, he paused, as if he were taking a deep breath or was trying to find the right words. “You know how much I love you, Sookie. I know you love me too. You know how well we suit each other. This is the most difficult thing I have ever had to do in my life, believe it or not,” he grinned, impishly at me. “I am scared of living without you. If you feel the same way as me-I was wondering, Miss Sookie Stackhouse…would you do me the honor of becoming my wife?” He asked me, hopefully.
I sat there, still with my mouth hanging wide open. I didn’t know what to say. Mr. Cataliades leaned over towards me.
“This is where you say, yes,” he prompted me with a grin on his face. He looked only too pleased, as if he had had a hand in making this happen. I wondered if Eric had confided in him.
I couldn’t ask him, of course, all of my attention and focus was on Eric. I was stunned. I stared at the box, up at Eric, then back again. Eric opened it and inside there was the most perfect engagement ring that I’d ever seen. It was a solitaire, not a gaudy one, but was still large. It was perfect. It was what I had always wanted my engagement ring to look like. I was speechless.
“Mr. Northman, I hope you are not trying to do this to impress me. I’m sure that you’re quite aware that the state of Louisiana does not recognize marriages between vampires and humans,” the judge spoke up, not impressed with Eric’s proposal.
“I am doing nothing of the kind and to hell with the state of Louisiana,” Eric told the judge. “I have wanted to do this for a long time, only I have been trying to find the best way of making it happen. I can assure you, this would be happening whether we were here or not.” He turned back towards me. “Will you? Will you marry me?” He begged.
What could I say? Thoughts were swirling around in my head, this would have been better in a romantic kind of setting, but I realized that it didn’t really matter. Nothing else mattered. Eric was proposing to me for real, and it was what I have been hoping and wishing, for a long time now.
I nodded my head and answered,
I wrapped my arms around Eric’s neck and hugged him. He stood up and swung me around in his arms. I had tears in my eyes, I was so happy. Eric stopped and put me down. He took the ring out of the box and slipped it on to my finger. My fingers shook, as I stared at it on my hand.
“Perfect,” he exclaimed, as he held my hand and gazed at it too.
“No,” I shook my head. “You’re perfect,” I cried. Happy tears started to roll down my face.
“Careful, you are leaking,” he teased me. I could feel his intense pleasure and happiness from my answer. I wasn’t sure if what we were feeling was each of us, or a combination of both of us, but from where I was standing, I was bubbling over with happiness. I couldn’t wait to tell all of my family and friends.
We broke apart, as we remembered where we were and what we were doing, we both looked sheepish from our affectionate display.
We returned to our seats. Mr. Cataliades reached across me and shook Eric’s hand.
“Congratulations,” he told him. He turned to me. “I am very happy for both of you. Am I going to be invited to the wedding?” He teased.
By now the judge, being a woman and a romantic one at that, was in tears too. While she knew that our marriage wouldn’t technically be legal, I could tell that our engagement pleased her immensely.
“You know, Mr. Northman…Miss Stackhouse, I’ve always thought that it was a shame that the state hasn’t passed a law stating that a marriage between a vampire and human was legal. I’m happy for both of you.” She wiped at her tears in her eyes. “I’m sorry, you see, I do have a soft side. I still remember when my own husband proposed to me. What was I saying?” She wondered aloud. “Oh yes,” she remembered, nodding her head. “While your marriage might not be technically legal, it would be considered common-law. Times have changed so that the state does recognize common-law marriages. That’s all I needed to hear.”
She looked at her watch. “Oh dear, it’s getting late. I do have an early court case in the morning. However, before I adjourn this meeting. I’m going to grant you; Mr. Northman and Miss Stackhouse, weekly visitation rights. You will have Hunter Savoy starting next week. The Savoys the week after and so on. Do you understand what I’m explaining to you?”
We all nodded our heads.
“These visitation rights are only temporary and will end when your court hearings begin.” She looked at the Savoys. “Please keep it civil in the meantime. When it’s your turn for visitation, you will pick up the boy at his residence for that week. When your week is finished, the other couple picks him up at your place. If any of you is uncooperative, then the courts will step in and place Hunter in social services until after the hearing has declared his legal guardian. Am I making myself clear?”
All of us nodded our heads, too afraid to speak. The Savoys were angry and bitterly disappointed. They had hoped that the fact that Eric was a vampire would hurt us. I wondered what they would say as soon as the judge left the room.
Eric held my hand in his, as he had, all throughout the meeting, but especially since I had agreed to his proposal.
The judge called an end to the meeting and we rose as she left the room. I gathered up my purse. Mr. Cataliades gathered up his papers and put them in his briefcase. He patted Eric on the back.
“Again, my sincerest congratulations. This is very good for your case. The judge looked really pleased after you agreed to get married.”
“That is not why I did it,” Eric objected, as if Mr. Cataliades had accused him of doing it just for that reason.
“I know that, Eric. I just think that this ended perfectly. You have visitation rights and that is a step in the right direction.” Mr. Cataliades explained. He looked over at the other couple, who were busy talking to their lawyer. “I wonder what is going through their minds right now?”
They both turned and looked at me. I shrugged my shoulders. “Let’s just say that they’re not very happy…can we go now Eric? I don’t want them to talk to us right now. I don’t want anything to spoil this night. Do you realize that we’re engaged?” I asked, as if that were the most shocking thing that had ever happened.
Eric grinned at me, nodded his head and we followed Mr. Cataliades out of the courthouse. It was a very mild night. The moon was full and the stars were shining brightly.
We walked towards the parking lot and Eric’s Corvette, but we stopped when we heard someone cry out. We turned and noticed Dwayne Savoy walking towards us, we looked at each other then back again.
“Nice little trick you pulled in there, vamp,” he spat out, as if it were a dirty word. “But since my lawyer and the judge told us that we have to keep it civil…let’s shake hands. No hard feelings.” Dwayne held out his hand and waited for Eric to take it.
Eric looked like he wasn’t sure if he should trust him. I told him in my mind, “just do it…then we can get out of here.”
As soon as Eric’s hand met Dwayne’s, he screamed in pain. He dropped to his knees and tried to pull his hand out of Dwayne’s tight grip.
“Eric, what’s wrong?” I cried out, feeling helpless, alarmed and confused.
“Sil-ver,” he cried out in anguish.