“She wants to know if we have any plans for a future together,“ I told him at the same time as the social worker repeated the same question.
“Oh, well…we will see,” he winked at her. He purposely wrapped his arm around me. “It all depends on this little woman sitting right next to me.”
“What do you mean, ‘this little woman‘?” I cried out in my mind. “You better be nice.“ I smiled at him bashfully, so that the social worker wouldn’t wonder why, if we betrayed any signs when we communicated telepathically. I doubted she would suspect that, but she might think we were hiding something.
“You see…she is very stubborn and loves to make trouble for me, but…” I wanted to hit Eric right then. How dare he? “I love her anyway. But we will see what happens.” He winked at the social worker once again to show that he was joking.
Stubborn…trouble? Where does he get off?
I looked over at the social worker. I could tell that the woman was now charmed by him. I wasn’t sure if he had glamoured her or if it was a combination of his personality and great looks.
Hunter choose that moment to plop the truck down right on Eric’s lap, narrowly missing his Gracious Plenty. If Eric wasn’t a vampire, he would have been wincing in pain.
“Play,” Hunter instructed, he pushed the truck closer.
Having watched the way that Hunter played with his truck, Eric sat down on the floor and began making ‘vroom-vroom’ noises too. Hunter giggled as Eric tried to drive the truck into him. The social worker and I watched the two of them playing together for awhile, with grins on our faces.
I had never seen this side of Eric before. He was like a little boy. I briefly wondered, if he had had any kind of childhood toys when he had been growing up. He probably hadn’t, the days of the Viking were completely different from the modern day, but it was enjoyable to watch the way that Eric and Hunter got along.
Eventually, Eric decided to let him play alone with the truck and sat down next to me on the couch again. We made small-talk with the social worker and watched Hunter play. He quickly got tired of playing with the truck, having the usual attention span of a four year old, stood up and gazed at Eric, intently peering into his eyes as if he was trying to read his mind.
“Aunt Sookie, how come I can’t hear his thoughts but I can hear yours and the social workers?” Hunter wondered.
“Because Eric is a vampire. We can’t read their thoughts,” I explained.
Hunter frowned, confused about why we couldn’t. “A vampire?” he repeated, puzzled and confused.
“Vampires are beings who are dead. That’s why we can’t read their minds,” I explained.
Hunter moved closer to Eric and stood in between his thighs. He stared into Eric’s eyes, as if trying to force himself to read the vampire’s mind. He gave up and decided to satisfy his curiosity by speaking aloud.
“How come you have girl hair?” he asked Eric.
Eric, amused by the question, started chuckling. “It is that way because I like it. It is how I wore it when I was human.”
Hunter absorbed it and frowned. “Do you wear it in braids and ponytails like a girl does too?”
Eric chuckled once again. “Yes.”
Hunter still didn’t understand. He frowned. “If you are dead, how come you are sitting right here talking to me, playing with my new truck? My daddy is dead now and I can’t talk to him. How can that be?”
“I can because I am a vampire. Well, it is hard to explain, but I drink blood and can only come out at night. I am not dead the same way your father is,” he explained, patiently. He seemed able to easily handle the swiftness with which that Hunter changed subjects.
“So my dad isn’t a vampire?” he asked hopefully.
Eric shook his head, ‘No’.
“Yuck, you drink blood?” Hunter made a gagging sound. “Gross. How do you get it?”
“Well…” Eric looked from the social worker then back at Hunter again. “I have fangs that help take the blood out, but these days we drink TruBlood,” Eric replied diplomatically.
“Can I see them?” Hunter pestered him.
“Hunter!” I exclaimed. This was partly to scold him for being so demanding and because of my fear the social worker would get grossed out and hold it against us.
“It is okay, Sookie,” Eric told me softly. He turned back to Hunter, revealing his fangs.
Hunter leaned in. “Wow! Can I touch them?” He started to reach out to do just that.
“Young man, where are you manners?” I scolded him for being so curious.
“Sure you can, kiddo,” Eric encouraged. In his mind, he told me. “Let him get it out of his system. He’s a little boy. They are curious.”
This surprised me; Eric had seemed unfamiliar with children up until now.
Hunter touched them and went ‘oooh’ and ‘ahhh’. He was impressed. “Those are real?” He asked Eric.
“Yes,” Eric retracted his fangs. “I can do magic tricks too. Would you like to see?”
Hunter nodded his head.
Eric stood up and picked up the couch with me on it, with one hand. He lifted it up and over his head, which showed off his immense strength.
Hunter’s eyes were round. “Wow, I can’t do anything like that. Show me more. More, more, more!” He demanded, excitedly.
I could easily tell that this was a male thing. Eric wanted to show off and impress either the social worker or me and Hunter was his attentive audience. I rolled my eyes. Eric sat the couch back down and thought of something else that he could do.
“Oh, I bet you did not know that some vampires can fly, did you?” He asked Hunter.
Hunter shook his head. Eric levitated above the room until his head touched the ceiling, and then came down again. Hunter was impressed. “Wow, you’re like Superman!” He exclaimed. “Can you take me flying too?”
“Sure,” Eric picked him up. They went outside where Eric would have more room to fly around.
The social worker and I stood at the window and watched them fly around in the night. Hunter was giggling the whole time, enjoying the experience.
I grew bored. “I guess that answers that question…” I commented to the social worker. She had been watching the whole scene in amazement and turned back to me with my comment. “Whether or not, they would get along.” I clarified for her.
The social worker nodded her head in understanding. I could read in her mind that she was pleased and this reassured me that she was happy with the visit.
Soon, it was time to go. Eric had worn Hunter out, his eyes were drooping. We got him ready to leave, while Hunter fought to stay awake.
“Sorry for wearing him out like this,” Eric apologized. He was sorry for making Hunter so exhausted. “I hope you will not hold it against us.”
“Don’t be silly,” the social worker reassured us. “I think it’s good, both for Hunter and your court case as well. It shows that this will be a fun-loving home. Hunter, let’s go. It’s time to go home.” She held out her hand for him to take it.
All of a sudden, Hunter screamed out, “No! I don’t want to go back. You can’t make me!” He ran, not to me as I thought he would, but over to Eric and hugged him around his knees. Eric gave me a startled expression. I was surprised, maybe a part of me felt a little left out, but I was happy that Hunter trusted Eric enough to feel safe going to him.
“Hunter,” I tried to comfort him. I squatted down next to Eric, who was now cradling the child in his arms. He had taken a seat on the bottom step of the stairs leading up to our bedroom. “I’m sorry, but you must. We can do this again some other time,” I tried to reason with him.
“No!” He shouted at me. I could tell that he was extremely tired. He was acting like how any normal child would, when they needed a nap. He turned to Eric with a pleading expression on his face. “Please! Don’t let me go. I need you, Uncle Eric.” Hunter’s Eric sounded more like, air-wic. It sounded very cute. Nevertheless, this wasn’t the time to go, ‘awww’.
“Hey, kiddo, I would love to keep playing with you and ‘hanging out’, but sometimes a man has to do, that which he does not want to do. You do not want to disappoint, Aunt Sookie, do you?” Hunter shook his head. “Then, you go with the social worker and we will see you again soon.”
“Promise?” He asked, hopefully, with tears in his eyes.
“Promise.” Eric crossed his heart and hoped to die. “And the next time you come over, I will have another surprise waiting for you,” he winked at him.
That sounded great to Hunter. I gave Eric a stern look because he shouldn’t bribe a child the way that he was doing. Hunter turned to me and hugged me. “I’m sorry, Aunt Sookie. I promise that I’ll be on my best behavior.”
I hugged him back. “I’ll miss you. Go along now with the nice woman. We will see each other soon,” I told him.
I had troubles letting him go and Eric had to help me do that. “Lover, do I have to promise you something too?”
I shook my head. “No, it’s just that it’s hard-I don’t want to say goodbye.”
Hunter lifted his head from my shoulder and stared from Eric and me, then back again. “Can he read my mind too?”
“Oh, shoot!” I exclaimed in my mind. We hadn’t told him that Eric could read my mind. I looked over at Eric with a scared expression on my face. What to say to him in reply? I thought frantically.
“No, Hunter. He can only read mine. But we’ll talk more about this the next time you come to visit, okay?” I stared at Hunter, hopeful that this would be enough to placate him. No such luck…
“No! I want to talk about it now!” He screamed at me in our minds. If I could let him go, I would go upstairs and grab myself a Tylenol. The level of mental sound had caused me to get a headache.
“Hunter, the social worker won’t like it if we keep her waiting any longer. She will wonder why. We will talk about it the next time, I promise.”
“Fine,” he grumbled.
Finally, I disentangled myself from Hunter and he walked out the door with the social worker. As soon as the door closed, I turned into Eric’s arms and started crying.
Eric held me in his arms for a while, muttering soft words. “Lover, I know that it is hard…but we will see him again soon.” He did his best to make me feel better.
“I know,” I sobbed into his shoulder. “It’s just that-he’s so scared. I’m scared for him. I don’t know what I would do if something hap-”
“Happened?” He asked, finishing my sentence for me. “I will make sure that he is kept safe. I promise.”
I stared up into his eyes, knowing that he would keep his word. “How will you do that?” I asked, curiously.
Eric winked down at me. “I have my ways…”
Later that night, I went to bed. Eric lay with me until I fell asleep. I felt him get up and leave the bed, but I was so tired, that I didn’t move.
Eric knew what he had to do. He followed Hunter’s scent until he found himself outside of a run-down shack a few miles outside of Red Ditch. Remy’s cousins’ place, he thought to himself.
He stood outside of the house. He could hear someone screaming and crying from inside. A new kind of fear made him rush over to the window closest to the sound. He peered in.
Anger and rage swept through him after what he saw. A man who looked like he had a beer belly was spanking Hunter repeatedly. Eric couldn’t save him because he hadn’t been invited inside the house. Eric felt a new sense of helplessness. He moved away from the window and closed his eyes; tried to block both the images and the sounds out.
What kind of person would do this to a child? He wondered. He felt an intense hatred for the man. If he had been invited into the house, the man would have been drained by now.
He heard the door to the bedroom slam shut. He looked into the window once again and noticed that Hunter was laying on the bed, crying into his pillow. His heart ached for the little boy. Already, he was beginning to feel those irrational and intensive emotions for the child. The same ones he felt for Sookie, and yet he had only met the boy this evening. It made no sense.
“Hunter,” he called out to him from the other side of the closed window. “Invite me in,” he coaxed. It took a few moments of repeating those words until Hunter raised his head up from the pillow-and looked over at him.
Hunter’s eyes were red and bloodshot from his tears, which had made his cheeks wet. “Uncle Eric?” He asked, surprised to see him there. “Is that really you?” He asked, incredulously. He sat up in bed and stared at Eric in the window. “How did you find me?”
“Hunter, invite me in,” Eric ignored Hunter’s questions. “I will answer your questions, if you invite me in,” he explained.
“Come in, Uncle Eric,” Hunter told him, excitedly. Hunter was really happy to see Eric there, Eric could tell. As if the spanking that he’d just received was forgotten, Hunter jumped up off of the bed, rushed over to the window and opened it.
Having received the much-needed invitation, Eric climbed in. He hugged the still trembling child close to him, trying to comfort the boy.
“Why was that man beating you?” Eric asked, angry on Hunter’s behalf. “What happened?” His voice full of both rage and concern.
Hunter looked afraid. He looked towards the closed bedroom door and back again.
“I will not say anything. I only want answers,” Eric tried to reassure him.
“After I came home from your house, I did a bad thing,” Hunter looked away from Eric, full of shame.
“What did you do?” Eric wondered.
“I told him that I didn’t want to live here anymore. That I was going to go live with you and Aunt Sookie,” Hunter explained. “Aunt Sookie said that I could,” Hunter said before Eric could object. He raised his chin up a notch, stubbornly.
Eric had to bite back his laughter. Hunter’s expression reminded him of his bonded. “I take it that the man did not like what you told him?” He asked.
“No,” Hunter replied with a pout and full of disappointment. “He told me that he would make sure that I don’t live with any old crazy woman.” He frowned, confused by what the man had said. “Does he think Aunt Sookie is crazy?” He asked Eric, puzzled and confused. “And she’s not that old. Not as old as my next door neighbor. He has to use a cane.”
Eric had to smoother his laughter. “Well…she does have her crazy moments,” he commented jokingly. “What else did he say?”
“He told me that he was disappointed in me. He told me that I was bad for not wanting to live with him,” Hunter explained. “But I’m not bad…am I, Uncle Eric?”
“No,” Eric emphatically replied. “And he spanked you for that?” Eric couldn’t understand why Hunter had been getting punished when he had shown up. It was late. Hunter should have been fast asleep by now.
“He told me that I deserved it. I had to be taught a lesson. What does that mean, Uncle Eric?”
Eric shook his head. He did not know the answer to that question either. “I do not know, but I promise you…it will not happen again,” he vowed. “Come, you need to get to sleep.” Eric started to lead Hunter towards the bed by his hand.
“I’m not tired,” Hunter dug in his heels. “I want you to tell me a bedtime story.”
Eric had never told anyone a story in all of his life. He could not remember any fairy tales either. What kind of story do you tell a little boy? The ancient stories of his people might be too gory for him. He frowned. “I do not know of any stories.”
“Don’t worry, Uncle Eric,” Hunter told him, excitedly. “I have a book you can read me right here.” He raced over to a bookshelf and pulled down a book. “Here.” Hunter plopped the book down on Eric’s lap, just like he’d done with the truck earlier in the evening. “Read.” He insisted.
Hunter climbed on to the bed and crawled underneath the covers. Eric opened the page to the first story that he came to. He began to read.
“No, not that one,” Hunter whined. He reached over and found a different story in the book. “That one.” He laid back down again.
Eric stared at him, utterly bemused. What was the difference? They all had pictures and words. Eric didn’t argue. Instead, he lay down on the bed next to him and began to read the story that Hunter wanted.
Before long, Hunter was fast asleep. Eric stared down at him for the longest time. He was curious about him. He was so small, it would be nothing for him to crush one of his bones. He could smell the scent of his blood. It was sweet and intoxicating, just like a ‘fairy’s’. The strange thing was that he didn’t desire to have a taste of it. Instead, he wanted to put his own blood inside of him…so that he could protect him. He frowned.
He already cared for this strange little human, which was completely vexing for him. Why had Sookie not warned him that he would feel this way? It made no sense. Should he tell Sookie about what happened? He knew that she would be bothered by what he had witnessed. He didn’t want to make her worry more.
Eric stayed there until dawn, to look out for him in case the man came back to finish the punishment, he only left when it was no longer safe enough to stay.
“Did you find out more about the V selling in your club?” I asked Eric, the next evening.
“No,” Eric shook his head. “Sookie…there is something that you should know.” He paused. I could feel the hesitation in his voice.
Uh-oh, this was going to be bad. This reminded me of when he had told me about Lorena and Bill. I prepared myself for it, just like I had back then.
“Okay,” I encouraged him to get it out in the open. “Go on.”
“Last night, after you went to sleep, I followed Hunter’s scent to where he has been staying.”
“Remy’s cousin’s house?” I asked, surprised and confused. I had no clue how this had anything to do with the V selling.
“Yes. I…came upon a scene…that you will not like hearing about,” Eric warned.
“What?” I asked, curiously. I couldn’t imagine what he was going to say. I braced myself for the worst.
“Hunter was being…punished for speaking his mind. I felt helpless. I was unable to enter and stop it,” Eric looked away from me, feeling ashamed.
I could feel his intense guilt and shame and my fears about Hunter’s living arrangement grew. It took a lot for a man like Eric to feel this way. “How bad?” I asked, dreading that he would tell me that Hunter had been sent to the hospital or something far worse. “Is he okay?” I couldn’t keep the sound of panic and fear out of my voice.