Disclaimer: All publicly recognizable characters, settings, etc. are the property of their respective owners. The original characters and plot are the property of the author. The author is in no way associated with the owners, creators, or producers of any media franchise. No copyright infringement is intended.
Within twenty minutes, Eric regretted his offer to answer the boy’s questions. When he sat down, the Viking felt warmly toward the youth. ‘My son’, he thought. That didn’t last long.
Eric anticipated Rick’s questions would be mostly about Eric Northman. That’s what most humans asked. They wanted to know about his age and they usually asked if he’d been present at various historic events. Those who knew him longer asked about his role in vampire hierarchy.
That was not what Rick asked.
“So, where are you taking my Mom?” the boy demanded. The shamed expression that Rick wore in the house was gone now. The boy’s chin was up and his lips were pursed.
“I am taking your Mother back to the Palace in New Orleans,” Eric replied. Eric wasn’t sure why Rick asked. Pam had already shared this plan with the boy, but Rick seemed intent on verifying the information he’d been given. Rick’s eyes lowered and he looked away. Eric nodded. It was good. The boy was satisfied, and Eric found himself thinking of what lay ahead.
Eric thought about the large tub in the royal suite back at the Palace. It would be lined with blankets and bubble wrap to protect and cushion Sookie’s body. Eric would spend the next seventy-two hours tending her as she transformed. The blankets would be changed frequently, and Eric would wash her, so she stayed clean. Eric knew what he faced, the smells and the fluids. Eric had joined Pam in the ground during her transformation. By the time he made Pam, he knew that leaving one’s progeny alone wasn’t the only option open to a Maker. When he’d made Karin, he had only Appius’ example to follow and he wondered if some part of Karin’s hard nature came from that experience.
Facilitating a turning where dirt wasn’t there to absorb the inevitable was not something many Makers did, but Eric couldn’t stand the idea of his Sookie, whom he knew struggled with being in darkness, waking up under the ground. He was sure that his staying with her wouldn’t be pleasant, but Eric wanted to do this. It was more than the love he felt for her. Eric felt an obligation to Sookie Stackhouse. Had he not ordered the takeover, had he not allowed two nights of score-settling, perhaps Sookie wouldn’t have ended up in Compton’s hands.
“So, what then? Can I stay with her there?” The questions caught Eric by surprise. The Viking had assumed the boy was done with his questions, but he could see now that wasn’t the case. The boy wasn’t looking thoughtful. He was looking angry. There was no particular awe or respect in his attitude nor his tone.
“No,” Eric answered, and even to his own ears he could hear how short his answer sounded. As soon as the word came out, the King saw Rick’s protest forming, so he tried to get ahead of it by adding, “Your Mother will not be conscious. Her body will be changing and she…”
“Will be pretty gross, yeah! I get it!” Rick cut the Viking off. Rick’s eyes were hard and his voice got louder. “But why can’t I help her? I’m her son. You’re…”
“She is mine!” It slipped out. Rick stopped talking, and Eric almost retracted it, seeing the shock on the boy’s face, but then he didn’t. Eric wasn’t sorry he said it. Just hearing the words out loud, how right they sounded, brought a smile to his face. It wasn’t for Rick that he added, “And she is mine to care for now.”
Rick’s look shifted again. If he’d been a cat, his ears would have been laid back. The boy leaned toward Eric and he poked the air with his finger, punctuating his words. “Listen, Buster!” he hissed. “I don’t know who you think you are, but where have you been the past twelve years? I’ll tell you where! Nowhere! You never came to find us! You never came looking for her! And now you’re just going to step in and take over? I don’t think so!” The boy was standing, and even his hair seemed to bristle.
“Buster?” It backed Eric up. It was Sookie’s word and the Viking found he couldn’t be angry with this child. Eric could see that this was anger masking fear, so he tried explaining things so that Rick would understand. “It is more than just the physical transformation. There is the matter of her Maker’s death.”
“So, what does that mean?” Rick challenged. “Why does Compton’s death matter?”
Now Eric stood, too. He tried to remain relaxed as the boy paced, “During the journey from human to vampire, the bond with your Maker is a constant. It pulls you forward.” Eric remembered the pull he’d felt as he lay under the ground, his feelings toward Appius Livius Ocella, an impossible tangle of loathing and love. “Because her Maker was killed, there is no pull for Sookie, your Mother. She will feel disoriented…”
“Could it hurt her?” Rick interrupted again. Eric could hear the fear in the boy’s voice now. “Mr. Hermosa said sometimes turnings go wrong. Could losing her Maker make things go wrong?”
“Sookie is strong,” Eric answered. He felt pleased that the boy was calming down and seemed to be grasping the situation. “She would not have wanted Compton as her Maker. She…”
And the boy turned on him. He pulled himself up to his full height and he glared at Eric. “But this could really screw her up, right?” the boy’s voice was rising again. “And you couldn’t wait. You had to kill the other guy because…why? Because my Mom is ‘yours’? Jeez, you really are an asshole, aren’t you?”
Eric felt his eyes go flat. For his enemies, it was the last thing they saw, but this was ridiculous. This boy, Sookie’s son, was no threat. He was a child, but he seemed incapable of listening to reason. “You don’t know what you’re talking about,” Eric growled, and he knew he was done talking. There was no end to the child’s ignorance and dawn was approaching. There was much to do. “There will be more time for talk later,” Eric announced, and turned to walk away.
“Is this what you did to her, too? You’d just tell my Mom what you wanted and leave her guessing about the rest?” Rick challenged.
“I always told your Mother what she needed to know,” Eric growled, but the boy’s words stung and Eric recognized that feeling when someone had struck too close to a truth the Viking didn’t wish to consider.
“Yeah, well, I may be a kid,” Rick snarled from behind him, “but I know a lie when I hear one!”
“We are done,” Eric said. He found himself walking, then vamping back to Compton’s house. The others were waiting. The coffin holding Sookie was now sitting next to the van that would take them to the airport. Eric could hear the boy’s feet slapping the ground as he tried to catch up. The prospect of this angry child stomping around the Palace while everyone else rested was not appealing.
“Rubio, I have a favor to ask,” Eric leaned over his friend.
“I owe you my life,” Rubio replied. “There is nothing you can ask…”
“Pam suggested that Rick…” and Rubio saw something he never thought to see on Eric’s face. His King looked guilty. “Pam thought it might be better to have Rick stay with you, just until Sookie completes her transformation. I think it would be a good idea, too,” and Eric stopped talking and leaned forward. “I want you to take Rick home with you.” Rubio’s eyes widened, “I realize this will not be convenient for your wife, but she is human. He is awake during the day. It would not be good for him to be in a vampire palace at this time.”
“You don’t think…” Rubio started, then seeing Eric’s expression, he bowed his head and said, “Of course. I’ll call Lily. George is home. They’re friends.” Rubio glanced past Eric, and the Viking assumed his friend was looking at the rapidly approaching youth. “But, you will arrange for Rick to be in New Orleans in time for his Mother’s rising?” Rubio asked.
“I…” and then Eric stopped talking. He felt caught out. When he’d thought about Sookie opening her eyes for the first time as a vampire, he imagined her surrounded with flowers and candles, and in his dream, it was just the two of them.
“I’ll bring him to New Orleans,” Amy Ludwig spoke up. “I can pick him up and have him in at the Palace in plenty of time.” Eric was startled. The Doctor rarely put herself out for anyone, but when he saw the look she was giving him, it made him feel uncomfortable.
Rick reached them and the daggers he was throwing at Eric with his eyes made clear to everyone how well his talk with his Father had gone. “So, what now?” the boy challenged.
“You’re coming home with me,” Rubio answered.
“What?” Rick stared at Eric and his mouth opened and closed before he could get the words out, “But, my Mom…”
“Is going to New Orleans tonight. Rick, she’ll be sleeping for three days,” Rubio explained. “She won’t be able to communicate. She won’t be sure what’s going on, and there’s going to be a lot of work involved in keeping her comfortable, but don’t worry. On the day of her rising, Doctor Ludwig is coming to get you. You will be there in plenty of time to be beside her when she opens her eyes for the first time,” and Rubio looked at Eric, clearly waiting for his agreement.
“Yeah, sure,” Rick swallowed, his face coloring, “If he lets me be there!” and Rick drilled Eric with his eyes, willing the vampire to feel his fury.
“This is for the best,” Eric huffed. It was hard to understand how his talk with the boy had gone so badly. He was sure Sookie wouldn’t approve of where things stood between himself and Rick, but he couldn’t think of how to fix it. If she were here, Eric was sure Sookie would know what to do, and he found his gaze shifting back to the coffin that held her.
“Of course, you’ll be there when she rises,” and Thalia stepped forward, placing her hand on Rick’s shoulder. It was so unusual for Thalia to interfere, Eric couldn’t help staring at her. The others stared as well, but Thalia ignored them all as she told the boy, “Sookie would want to be surrounded by her family. You are her son, and one of us. It is your right to be at her side.”
“Of course,” Eric stammered. Thalia’s words shocked him and he felt doubt. For the first time, the Viking wondered if he was in the wrong and if Rick was the only one Sookie would wish to see. It was a humbling thought.
“I have not explained things as I should,” he told Rick. “You are probably right. I’m sure I didn’t explain things well to your Mother, either, but this I promise you,” and Eric bowed. “I will try to do better. I am not at my best,” and Eric couldn’t help turning his eyes to the coffin where she rested. “Your Mother’s… This turning… While I wish to accept what you have told me, that her beliefs have changed, your Mother told me many times that she never wished to be vampire.”
“Then, you don’t know her very well,” Rick leaned into Thalia, and that gesture caused Eric’s chest to clench. “My Mom’s a fighter! Nothing gets her down! I have faith in her and you should, too.”
Eric looked again at the coffin. ‘He is your son,’ he thought. Eric turned back to Rick, “This I pledge to you, I will do what I can to comfort her during her change. I will ease her passage in every way that is within my power but, when it is time, I will make certain yours is the first face she sees.” Eric walked over to Rick and laid a hand on the boy’s shoulder, “I think she will be most happy to see you,” and Eric forced a smile.
“I want to see her before you take her away,” Rick had his chin up and his chest thrown out, but his brave front was betrayed by the single tear that slipped over the boy’s cheek. On instinct, Eric caught the tear, bringing it to his lips. When he caught Rick’s startled look, he nodded.
“Allow me one minute first,” Eric told him, then ran away toward the cemetery.
“You okay?” Amy squeezed Rick’s arm.
“I don’t know,” Rick shrugged. “I guess,” and he looked away, pulling himself together.
Rick glanced over to where Mr. Hermosa was now sitting in the wheelchair. He was on the phone and he seemed to be talking a lot. Rick was pretty sure it was about him. He remembered George saying how his Mom didn’t want the two of them hanging out together anymore, and Rick felt more alone than he had ever felt before.
“You sure can piss him off,” Pam walked close beside him. “I’m not sure what you said, but you were under his skin in no time.”
“I’m not trying to make him mad,” Rick swiped another tear away. “She’s my Mom. No one seems to remember that.”
“Vampires are possessive,” Pam shrugged.
“I’m a vampire,” Rick snapped. “And I’m not all grabby, grabby, mine, mine! My Mother taught me to share!”
“Your Mother didn’t teach you to be a vampire, then,” Pam sniffed.
Thalia nodded at him and looked as if she’d say something else, but then Eric returned. He walked over to the large coffin Rick knew held his mother and raised the lid. He had a blanket Rick assumed he’d taken from his Mother’s house. He laid it in the coffin and Rick realized his Mother probably wasn’t wearing any clothes and the Viking had considered Rick’s feelings long enough to get something to cover her up. Eric’s hand hesitated inside the coffin before he looked up, and Rick knew he was being summoned.
With each step, Rick found his feet seemed larger and heavier. He wanted to see her, needed to see her, but he was so worried she’d look different, but she didn’t. The face that was there was his Mom’s, the same way she looked whenever she fell asleep on the couch…well, almost. “Mom!” he whispered. He didn’t bother trying to hide his tears now and his fangs snicked down. It didn’t matter. “I love you!” he told her, then he reached out to touch her because he had to know she was real. Her skin was cold, so cold. “It’s going to be okay,” he said as much for himself as for her. “I don’t know if you can hear me, but I’ll be there when you wake up. And I know you will! You’ll show them all!”
Eric’s hand was on his shoulder, “We must go,” he told Rick. “Dawn approaches. You will see your Mother in three nights. I have promised you.”
Rick leaned over the coffin and kissed his Mom’s forehead and then near her eye. His fangs refused to retract, so he could barely feel her skin against his, but the sensitivity of his teeth made him want to rub against her. It was weird and he stood, rubbing his eyes dry. “Three days,” Rick told Eric, and then turned and walked away, his back straight.
Rubio was waiting for him next to the transport van. “You ready to go?” Rubio asked. When Rick shrugged, Rubio said, “George is happy you’re coming. Would you like to talk with him?” and he held out his phone.
“I’d really like to talk with my Aunt Lora and…” Rick almost said Aunt Fran, but he stopped himself. There were so few people in this world now who wanted him, he thought sadly.
“Where’s your phone?” Rubio asked.
“Some thug in New Orleans took it,” Rick told him.
“At the Palace?” Thalia was suddenly beside them. When Rick nodded, Thalia brought out her own and texted faster than Rick had ever seen anyone text before. “They will find it if it can be found,” she assured him. “In the meantime,” she reached into an inside pocket of her jacket, “you may use this one. It has no passcode.”
“Thanks,” Rick told her, but when he looked up, Thalia was staring away. Rick saw that Pam was also staring in the same direction, and so he looked.
Eric Northman was naked and he was lowering himself into the coffin that held Rick’s mom. For a big vampire, the Viking was being very careful in the way he did it. It gave Rick an odd feeling. “Don’t judge him too harshly,” Thalia said from behind him. “He may tell you she is His, but we know the truth.”
“What do you mean?” Rick asked.
“Eric Northman belongs to your Mother,” Thalia snorted, “but don’t repeat that! It will only make him deny it and that kind of lying isn’t good for anyone!”
While they watched, the lid lowered. “He’s really going to be with her for three more days?” Rick asked.
“Yeah, three days wrapped around stinky, rotten, changing carcass,” Pam snarked.
“Time to go!” Rubio interrupted. “Come on, Rick, we have a ride ahead of us, and I’d like to fall into my day death in my own bed.” Pam gave them both a lop-sided smile, and finger-waved once they stepped into the van. There was a travel coffin strapped in the back, but Rubio and Rick sat on the seats affixed to both sides.
“Why don’t you call your Aunt Lora?” Rubio suggested. “I’m sure she’s been worried about you.”
The van started moving. Rick stared at the phone in his hands, not sure he wanted to call without having some privacy, but then Mr. Hermosa moved down a couple seats, and put his own phone to his ear. After Mr. Hermosa shifted to face the back of the van, Rick took a deep breath, pulled out his wallet, and called the first number Aunt Lora’s numbers gave him.
The phone only rang twice before his Aunt answered, “Hello?” Rick was startled. It was so late, he figured his Aunt would be sleeping.
Instead, she sounded anxious, so Rick quickly said, “It’s me, Aunt Lora. It’s…”
“Rick! Oh, thank God! I was going out of my mind with worry!” she exclaimed. “Are you okay, Honey? Did you find your Mom?”
“I’m fine,” Rick nodded, “and we did find her. She’s…okay,” he said carefully.
“You’re not telling me something!” Aunt Lora scolded. “Has she been hurt? Has your Mom been injured somehow?”
“I don’t think it’s that, exactly,” Rick stammered. “She’s going to be a vampire, though.” He said it as though it was no big thing, but as the shock of tonight wore off, it occurred to Rick that it was a big thing. It meant things would change for all of them.
“Oh,” Aunt Lora said once, and then, “Oh,” again. Rick figured Aunt Lora was thinking it was a big thing, too. Then she said, “I have someone here who wants to talk with you.”
“What did you tell your Aunt?” Aunt Fran demanded. “She looks like her dog got run over by a car!”
“Aunt Fran?” Rick stammered, his voice loud enough that Mr. Hermosa turned and looked at him. “Aunt Fran!” Rick repeated, his voice lower, “You’re there? You’re all right?”
“Well, you’re talking to me, aren’t you?” his Aunt challenged.
“Where are you?” Rick asked.
“In my own house,” Aunt Fran answered, as if Rick was being foolish to ask. “I didn’t like the hospital and they didn’t like me, so they kicked me out.” Rick was pretty sure that wasn’t the case, but then his Aunt went on to say, “That Doctor Ludwig is pure evil. She wasn’t ready to let me go, and so here I am! So,” then his Aunt’s voice dropped, “why don’t you tell your Godmother what happened?”
“Mom was turned,” Rick said.
“Did Eric Northman do it?” Fran snapped.
“What? No!” Rick exclaimed, “No, it was some vampire she knew from before. She got captured, somehow. We were looking for her. I found my Father, Eric, I mean, and we drove all over Louisiana.” Rick swallowed, then he hunched down into himself, “Aunt Fran? I was so scared. I thought for sure she was dead, and I’d never see her again.”
“But she isn’t dead, is she?” Fran’s voice was strong over the phone. Rick could almost see his Aunt’s dark eyes, challenging him.
“No,” he shook his head, “No, she’s not, but she’s on her way to New Orleans and I’m going to stay with Mr. Hermosa.”
“Why aren’t you with your Mother?” Fran demanded.
“Because Eric thought it would be better for me to be with humans until she rises. Doctor Ludwig says she’ll come and get me so I can be there for…you know.”
“Your Father decided to send you away?” Fran asked. She used that tone she got when she wanted to give a person the chills.
“I’ll be okay,” Rick said weakly. “George Hermosa will be there. At least I’ll have someone to talk to.”
“Why aren’t you talking with your Father?” Fran asked.
“He’s not a good talker,” The more Rick talked about it, the more miserable he felt.
“Well, then, your Father is an asshole!” Fran declared, and Rick laughed out loud to hear his Aunt use the same word he had. “Seriously, Sweetheart, how are you doing?”
“Not great,” Rick admitted. “I miss home. I miss my Mom. I miss being with people who want me around.” Fran took in a sharp breath and Rick worried that she’d had another episode. “Aunt Fran? Are you okay? It’s not that bad! Really, it’s not. It’s just been a really long night and I’m tired. It’ll be okay.”
“Stop bullshitting me!” Fran growled, and Rick realized she was angry. “It’s bad enough you break every rule and go high-tailing it down there, and there will be repercussions for that, by the way. You make it all the way, find your Father, and he’s mean to you?”
“Not mean, exactly,” Rick shrugged. “He… He just doesn’t seem to have a lot of time for me. I don’t think he knows what to do about me. Everyone down here keeps telling me he isn’t himself, that Mom being missing, and then turned is distracting him, or something.”
“Everyone?” Aunt Fran asked.
“Everyone, like Pam and Doctor Ludwig and Thalia.”
“You’ve met the famous Thalia?” Aunt Fran asked. It was hard to impress Aunt Fran, but Rick could tell that Thalia did it. “And you’ve met Pam? She’s your sister, isn’t she?”
“Yeah,” Rick nodded, “Her and B’etor.”
“Who?” Aunt Fran asked.
“Lursa and B’etor. My evil step-sisters, you know, from Star Trek.”
Aunt Fran was laughing, “I know who Lursa and B’etor are!” she chuckled. “I’m just trying to figure out how you know about them!”
Fran knew Rick did not grow up with a television, but Rick laughed, “George! He talks about that show all the time, so I made him stream it for me. I had to! It was self-defense!”
“I get it,” Fran chuckled, “and as for Karin and Pam? I guess they do have the teeth in common.” After a moment, she said, “I guess you’re telling me the vampire side of your family isn’t exactly welcoming you with open arms.”
“I wouldn’t call them family,” Rick shrugged.
“Well, then, there’s the answer,” Fran told him. “You hold tight. I’ll be making a few calls of my own. If there’s one thing I know about your Mother, it’s the importance of being with people she considers family, and from what you’re telling me, we’re it. It will take a little bit to get this organized, but I’m coming to Louisiana.”
“Do you think you should?” Rick asked. “I mean, you sound good, really good. I was so scared for you. If something were to happen… Do you really think you should travel?”
“I do sound better,” Aunt Fran cackled. “And I feel better, too. That Doctor Ludwig found me some kind of magic potion in her bag of tricks, and while I won’t say I’m dancing, I’m getting around again.”
“I’m really glad you feel better,” Rick said softly, “but don’t put yourself out for me. I’ll be okay.” He felt his throat catch a little on the lie he was telling. “I miss you,” he told her.
“Well, you won’t be missing me for long,” Fran assured him. “I miss you, too,” and she disconnected the line.
“I could chew nails,” Fran snarled to Lora. “Can you imagine the balls on that bastard? His own flesh and blood… Sookie’s flesh and blood, and he’s dumped him with strangers!”
“The Hermosas aren’t strangers,” Lora replied, but her voice was still strained, “They are George’s parents. You know, George, Rick’s best friend from school.”
“He’s not with his Mother,” Fran growled, “and that’s what counts.” Fran pulled the blanket around her legs. She hated the wheelchair, but she hated being stuck in bed more. “Call Amy Ludwig,” When Lora looked startled, Fran barked, “Get her! She offered me that hoo-doo juice and I’m ready to take it!”
“It’s addictive,” Lora cautioned. “You know what she said!”
“Oh, please!” Fran scoffed, “Like at my age I’m worried about becoming a junkie? I should so live long! All I need is to get where I want to go and right now, that place is with my Godson in New Orleans.”
The van pulled up to a regular white house in a regular suburban neighborhood. The lights were on inside and there was a light on over the garage, illuminating the driveway. Rick’s eyes felt as if they had sand in them, and Mr. Hermosa looked exhausted, too. Almost before the van stopped, the front door opened, and Mrs. Hermosa walked out with George right behind her.
The van driver got out and walked around, but Mrs. Hermosa pulled open the van door, meeting her husband as he walked down the steps. “Rubio!” she exclaimed, wrapping her arms around him and kissing his cheek.
“I’m fine, Lily, just tired,” Mr. Hermosa purred. He turned a little and said, “You remember Rick.”
“Hey, Bro!” George greeted from behind his Mother.
“Hey,” Rick returned the greeting. It was good to see George, but Rick held back, not wanting to get his friend in more trouble.
Mrs. Hermosa detached herself from Mr. Hermosa, though, and wrapped her arms around Rick. “I owe you big time!” she told the boy. “Thank you for finding my husband!”
It wasn’t the reception Rick anticipated, and he blushed a little. “It wasn’t…”
“Well, it just was!” Mrs. Hermosa cut him off, then hugged him again. She released him and wrapped her arm around Mr. Hermosa’s waist, “Now, let’s get inside before we wake the neighbors.” She looked at Rubio, “I have donors here and that’s your first stop.”
Mr. Hermosa looked shocked. “Lily, I couldn’t!” he exclaimed.
“Don’t you give me any crap about this, Rubio Hermosa!” she scolded. “You need blood, and lots of it to flush that silver out of your system. Doctor Ludwig and I had a long talk. Just think of it as taking your medicine, and I’ll be right there, so it’s not breaking any promises.”
Mr. Hermosa stopped walking just short of the door. He pulled Mrs. Hermosa close and nuzzled her. There was no other word for it. Rick and George stopped short, too, and Rick could hear the adults whispering to each other. After a few moments, Mrs. Hermosa just laughed and pushed against Mr. Hermosa, “No such thing!” she protested. “Besides, you wouldn’t let our guest eat by himself, would you?”
Rick was shocked, but Mrs. Hermosa gave him a warm look and George pulled at his arm. They walked into a small living room. It was furnished nicely, not Rick’s style, but homey. There were two people sitting there and they both rose. “It will probably be easier in the dining room,” Mrs. Hermosa was saying. “Rick? Would you like some human food, too? I have some leftover pulled pork and I could make you up a sandwich.”
Rick’s stomach squeezed, but his fangs were itching more. “That’s okay,” he lisped. “I’m pretty tired. I can wait for later.”
Lily waved the two people Rick knew were donors toward the dining room, and they both took a seat on the wooden chairs. Mr. Hermosa walked behind the man, leaving a young, attractive woman for Rick. George was staring, but he left after Mrs. Hermosa called him out to the kitchen. “You know what to do?” Mr. Hermosa asked.
Rick nodded, “Eric showed me.” He leaned over, licked the woman’s neck, and her scent tickled his nose. When he sank his fangs into her, Rick felt her shift a little and he worried he’d hurt her, but then she made a noise that didn’t sound hurt at all. Rick was standing close to the back of the chair and he became hard. It was difficult to concentrate, her blood was so appealing, but he slowed down and counted to calm himself, pulling out his fangs, and licking her neck.
The woman’s head leaned back, her eyes closed. “Too bad you’re so young,” she sighed. Rick pressed himself against the back of the chair, enjoying the sensation. Then he caught Mr. Hermosa’s eyes watching him. Rick felt embarrassed and his reaction faded a bit.
“I appreciate you coming so late,” Mr. Hermosa was saying. “There will be a generous tip for both of you on the account.”
“Happy to help,” the man said, and he and the woman left through the front door.
George and Lily came back into the room, and Mrs. Hermosa said, “George, why don’t you show Rick where he’ll be sleeping?” George motioned and Rick followed him down a hall to a room where there was a single bed and decorations aimed for a much younger child.
“We figured you’d be more comfortable in Frank’s room,” George told him. “Maddie’s room is vomit pink and filled with Disney Princesses. I thought it would have been perfect for you, but Mom thinks this one is better,” and George laughed.
“Yeah, thanks,” Rick stammered. There were pajamas already on the bed, and Rick looked around, needing to find a bathroom.
When he looked back, it was to find George smirking at him, “That for me?” Rick’s friend teased, pointing at Rick’s pants.
“Shut up!” Rick growled. “It happens!”
“She was hot,” George smirked.
“She was old enough to be…”
“What? Cougar bait?” and George laughed. When Rick opened his mouth to protest, George held up his hand, “Okay! I’ll stop. Look, it’s late and it looks like you really have to take care of that thing. Bathroom is second door on the right, and wipe it off the shower wall before you leave. I don’t need my Mom having to take care of that.”
“You’re a dickhead!” Rick dropped into their usual insulting banter.
“Butthole,” George answered. “Seriously though, thanks for finding my Dad. He told my Mom he wouldn’t have made it much longer. You saved him.”
“You’d have done the same for me,” Rick shrugged. George nodded, and Rick grabbed the pajamas and headed to the bathroom. He turned the shower to hot, leaned against the shower wall with one hand while he handled himself with the other. It didn’t take long. It never did, but as he recovered, panting, the night came back to him. ‘Interesting times,’ ran through his mind and he knew why the Chinese proverb called it a curse.
Rick figured it was pretty late when he opened his eyes. The bedroom was flooded with indirect light. Buzz Lightyear was staring at him from the bookshelf across the room. There was a Lego Star Wars vehicle he recognized as Jango Fett’s Slave One hanging from the ceiling. Things were quiet around him and it occurred to Rick that this kind of quiet would be how every day was in a vampire house. Then he heard a noise and knew somewhere in the house, someone was moving, and it made him feel better.
There were some fresh clothes on the dresser, George’s probably, but the pants were too small. Rick pulled on the pants Eric had found him at the Compton house and the new shirt. He almost left the room before remembering to make his bed. He picked up his clothes off the floor and folded those, too, then made his way to the hallway and back toward the main part of the house.
Mrs. Hermosa was standing at an island in the kitchen, drinking coffee, and looking at something on her notepad. “Hungry?” she smiled.
“Always,” Rick shrugged.
“I have another donor coming for you in about an hour, then there will be more when Mr. Hermosa rises. In the meantime, there’s some bagged blood in the refrigerator. Or, I could make you some scrambled eggs.” Rick had to hand it to her. She rattled off the choices like it was no big thing, and from what he could see, it wasn’t.
“Eggs would be great,” he told her. As she moved around the kitchen, Rick did open the refrigerator door. Mrs. Hermosa had cleared out a vegetable drawer and there were the familiar blood bank bags in stacks. He took one out and headed to the microwave on the counter. Mrs. Hermosa pulled out a glass and set it on the counter beside him, and just kept going, whisking eggs in a bowl, and asking if he’d like to watch some television.
“That’s okay,” Rick told her, and it struck him again how normal everything felt. Even when he’d been in Chester, it hadn’t felt quite like this. Rick had restricted his blood drinking to his room. There was never any talk of donors. It was as if his being part vampire was a secret he kept with his Mom, and he guessed it was. It hadn’t occurred to Rick that there was anything wrong or strange about how they lived until now.
“Where’s George?” he asked as he sipped the warmed blood.
“My Mom, his Gran, came home with me. She doesn’t get to see him much, so this was a good excuse for them to visit.” Mrs. Hermosa glanced at the clock, and Rick realized it was already past noon. “They went out to the mall for a bit. There’s a game place down there. George waited, but I figured you needed your sleep.”
“Thanks,” Rick mumbled, then “Thanks,” again when she slid a plate of eggs, sausage, and toast in front of him.
“So, you know you boys are in some trouble,” Mrs. Hermosa said, her eyebrow raised.
“My Aunt Lora is pretty mad,” Rick nodded. “I’m sorry we worried you.”
“I didn’t mean me or your family,” Mrs. Hermosa replied. “Your school is not happy about your little stunt. You are both on academic probation. They could have expelled both of you, but, under the circumstances, they’ve decided that you can get yourselves back on track by attending summer school.”
Rick’s fork suspended mid-motion. “Oh,” he said. School. Chester.
“What is it?” Mrs. Hermosa asked.
“I don’t know,” Rick stammered, “I guess I don’t know if I’ll be going back at all,” and suddenly he didn’t feel hungry and the blood in his stomach roiled.
It all seemed too much, and Rick stared out through the window over the sink. How could he go back to his regular life now? His Mom couldn’t live in the house in Chester anymore. They’d be vampires living in a place where there were no vampires, and then there was Eric. He didn’t look as if he’d be willing to move, and Rick didn’t think he’d be wanting his Mom to go too far away. Rick remembered the way his Mom looked when she returned from Denver, the way she’d stare off and smile, and he had a feeling she wouldn’t be too anxious to leave the big vampire, either.
Rick thought about Chester, the trees and the music and all his friends. Almost every good memory he had was made in that place. They danced every May 1st for his birthday, and he knew where he fit into his life there. Now, it was all different, and Rick swallowed, trying hard not to cry in front of Mrs. Hermosa.
Mrs. Hermosa walked up behind him and laid her hand on his shoulder, “I don’t think you should worry too much,” she told him. “Just because your Mom is becoming a vampire, it isn’t the end of the world. One thing I am sure about, your Mom is going to want to do what’s best for you. She won’t make decisions that would hurt you.”
“But, everything’s changed now,” Rick said carefully.
“Why? Because she’s becoming a vampire? People do. It’s not like the old days. No one expects vampires to give up their families and live apart any more, and I don’t think your Mom would anyway. I saw how she was with you, and I know what my kids tell me. You are the most important thing to her, and that’s not going to change.”
Rick shrugged, “Becoming a vampire does seem like a big thing,” he said gloomily. He’d been thinking it for awhile now, and saying it out loud made the thought sting a little less.
“I suppose it is,” Mrs. Hermosa told him, “but we do lots of big things in our lives. We buy houses. We get married. We have children. That doesn’t mean we leave our pasts behind. You know,” and she pushed the plate toward him, urging him to start eating again, “Mr. Hermosa and I have a plan. George and all our children can tell you about it. When Frank graduates high school, Mr. Hermosa is going to turn me. Our kids will be able to drive and there won’t be so many things that will be daytime-only events then.” Mrs. Hermosa clasped Rick’s hand and squeezed, “Of course, I want to be with Mr. Hermosa forever. I love him just as much as your Mom loves your Father, but our children come first. Now, your circumstances are a little different. Your Mom’s turning wasn’t when she chose, but sometimes those things happen. What I don’t doubt is that once she rises, she’ll figure out how to make this work best for you.”
It made Rick feel a little better, the way she said it. When he started eating again, Mrs. Hermosa said, “It’s not as hard as it seems. What I do know is that when I married Mr. Hermosa, I had each of my babies tell me what things were most important, what things they felt were the things that made them happy. That way, Mr. Hermosa and I were able to plan around those.” Mrs. Hermosa picked up a pad of paper from the counter and a pen and set it down beside him.
“Why don’t you make a list? That way, when your Mother rises, you can let her know what things matter most to you. It will help her figure out how to organize things, so that everyone is happy. Now, there will need to be compromises. For one thing, she can’t come out in daylight anymore.”
“I know that,” Rick said, but as he said the words, the real meaning of them started to sink in. His Mother wouldn’t be able to watch the sunrise with him for May Day. She wouldn’t be able to sit with him on the dock at home, watching the sun dance on the waves.
Mrs. Hermosa must had seen it, because she said, “It’s good to know in your own head what matters most, and you have some time to figure that out. There’s a nice covered patio out back and the day is warm. You want to head out there to work on it?”
Rick walked his dishes to the dishwasher, then headed out with the paper and pen. As he settled, his phone buzzed in his pocket. It was a text from his Aunt Lora. She and Aunt Fran would be flying to New Orleans tomorrow, and Amy Ludwig wasn’t coming for him; Uncle Desmond was. He would be there first thing in the morning, and the text asked him to inform his hosts.