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.
Sookie wasn’t sure what had made her scan the area. It had been weeks since she’d felt the need, but as she stood under the bare trees of the Common, the sky as dark as it ever became stretching above her, she kneeled in front of Ricky, took his cold hand in hers, closed her eyes, reached all around them, and there they were. There were two of them. They were close enough to see her.
Sookie stood, trying not to panic. She made a show of fussing over Ricky’s mittens and used her movements to look around her. They were near the street, standing in the shadow of a statue. She could see their slight glow. She couldn’t read them, although she had no doubt they were watching her.
Ricky looked up at her and Sookie kept a smile on her face, trying not to let the natural link existing between them transmit her fear. She thought about what to do and headed to Sean’s restaurant. It would be busy, but he would help. Above all, she couldn’t lead these strangers to her home.
While she moved, she confirmed the two voids were moving, too, pacing her. They didn’t enter the park. Instead, they walked parallel to her and a little bit back, leaving the iron fence between them. Sookie wasn’t fooled. They were vampires, and it would be no problem for them to vault over the six-foot barricade if they wanted her. She could see the opening closest to the restaurant. It took everything to keep her pace slow and constant, a woman walking with her child under the stars. The restaurant windows were shining and Sookie checked to make sure the vampires hadn’t closed the space between them. They hadn’t.
There were several people standing near the front desk awaiting tables. Sookie realized she must look odd. Women with strollers didn’t come here at this time of night, but the hostess recognized her. “I need to see Sean,” Sookie whispered. “Can I go back to the office?”
The young girl looked confused, but she said, “Sure, Susan. Look, it’s pretty busy. Can you collapse that stroller and carry him?” and she looked at Ricky who was looking at her, his face all round blue eyes.
The girl lent a hand and they inched through the crowded restaurant, heading for the back. The door was closed and the girl knocked twice. Sean looked irritated after the door opened, but then he saw Sookie. “Susan? What are you doing here?” he asked. There must have been something on her face because, in the next breath, he said, “Thanks, Moira. I have this. Go back out front,” and he stepped around the desk to take the stroller from the girl’s hands.
“Come on,” Sean gestured to the chair and shut the door. Once Sookie was seated, he said, “You look like you’ve seen a ghost. What’s going on?”
“I’m being followed,” Sookie figured she was being stupid, blurting it out, but she was so tense she couldn’t hold it any more. What was more embarrassing, as soon as the words left her mouth, she felt tears spill over her cheeks. Ricky twisted in her lap and his lip started to quiver. That was all Sookie needed to pull it together. She smiled weakly at her son and then, swallowing, said, “I need to call Fran. She’ll know what to do.”
“Why don’t I just walk you home?” Sean asked.
“They can’t know where I live,” Sookie told him.
“Do you know who they are?” and Sean sat on the edge of his desk, looking at the red-nosed woman bravely making faces to entertain her boy.
“I don’t,” she admitted, “but I know what they are,” then she looked up.
“Trouble?” Sean asked.
“Vampires,” Sookie nodded.
“Why don’t you give me that young man?” Sean asked. He smiled broadly, picking Ricky up from her lap. “You remember me, don’t you, boy-o?” he said in a broad Irish accent, and he lifted Ricky high and used his nose the tickle the child’s belly. Ricky laughed and grabbed Sean’s hair, and Sookie used the distraction to pull her phone out of her pocket.
A few minutes later, Sookie walked out the back door with Sean and Ricky. Fran assured them that no one would be able to detect them for hours. She had placed a cloaking spell on them and they could come home safely. “Just don’t get in an accident,” Fran warned Sookie. “No one will realize you’re lying on the sidewalk. You’ll be virtually invisible to every sense.”
After they walked into the kitchen, Fran turned to Sookie, “Well, I’d say that should put an end to these night walks of yours!”
“It was foolish,” Sookie nodded, and then, overwrought, she collapsed on the floor next to Fran’s chair, put her head in the older woman’s lap, and cried. Sean didn’t know what to do. Ricky, who one minute was watching everything around him, suddenly dissolved into whooping sobs as well.
Fortunately, it was Lora’s night to help, so she walked forward and scooped the hysterical child from Sean’s arms. “Let me take this one upstairs!” and she started talking to the infant, holding him closely as she took him from the room.
Fran stroked Sookie’s back. “Now, now. All’s well,” she assured her. Looking at Sean, she said, “You have a minute, or do you need to get back?”
Sean glanced at his watch. “I really do need to go,” he told the witch. “Give me a call later.” He hesitated, but couldn’t bring himself to say anything to Susan. She was still crying, her shoulders shaking. With a last nod, he headed back out the door, leaving the women to themselves.
Lora came back downstairs after a bit. Sookie had stopped crying, but she remained on the floor. Fran stroked her hair, allowing the younger woman to recover from her shock.
“Well, get off the floor then!” Lora sniffed. “I’ll make us some tea and we’ll figure out what to do.”
Sookie realized that in the minutes she’d spent on her knees, her legs had gotten stiff. She swayed a little, then pulled herself onto the chair. “I don’t know what came over me,” she apologized.
“It’s been a difficult week,” Fran soothed. “You saw Northman, and you can’t tell me that wasn’t one hell of a jolt. There are vampires in town and now you’ve been followed. I think you’re entitled to a panic attack.”
“Well,” Sookie laughed weakly, “when you put it like that…”
“Do you think they were watching you?” Lora asked.
“I’m sure of it,” Sookie nodded, biting her lip. “They followed me, but they held back.”
“Well, they’ll be in trouble when they go back to report,” Fran chuckled. Then, looking more serious, she said, “Lora? Go get my phone. Let’s call our inside man and find out if anything’s going on at Vampire Central that we should know about.”
“Inside man?” Sookie asked.
“Desmond,” Fran said absently, “you know, your attorney?” In a few minutes, Fran was speaking with Mr. Cataliades, and then she handed the phone to Sookie.
“Sookie? You are all right?” the attorney asked.
“Yes, I’m fine. They never approached us. They were following me, though. Any idea who they are?”
“No,” he told her, “but I’ll check around. The Summit ends tomorrow and everyone will be leaving, which is all for the better. I’ll call you back tomorrow.”
When the call came, the news was mixed. “I wasn’t able to determine who gave the order to have you followed,” he told Sookie, “but your name is being whispered around the Summit. There’s a rumor you’re in Boston and Felipe de Castro has heard it. On the other hand, there is no talk or thought about extending our time here to find you,” the attorney assured her. Sookie knew Mr. Cataliades could read vampires. It wasn’t something he shared around, but Sookie trusted the attorney had spent time scanning every vampire he could find.
“It leaves the question of who sent those two,” Sookie said to Fran as they started pulling lunch together later. Ricky had been fractious all morning, an unusual mood for him, and the women were ready to eat and put the little man down for a nap.
“Is it possible your vampire recognized you the other night?” Lora asked. She had returned today, even though, technically, it was her day off. They all knew it was because decisions needed to be made and Lora wanted her say.
“He’s not my vampire,” Sookie shook her head. “And I doubt it. Hell, even if he was curious, there’s a big old contract that tells him he has to stay well away from me! If there’s one thing I know about Eric, it’s that he’s a real stickler about contracts,” and Sookie was aware of how bitter she sounded.
“The fact is, someone sent them,” Fran nodded. “They saw you and they followed you, so someone knows you’re here.”
“You don’t think they were just hunting?” Lora asked hopefully.
“It’s possible,” Fran looked thoughtful.
“I don’t want to think about that for even one second!” Sookie exclaimed, scooping her son off the floor and taking him to his highchair. “But no, I don’t. There was something about it. They were trailing me and taking care not to be seen. They had their opportunity to split up and cut me off. They didn’t.”
“So, we’re left with the fact that someone knows you’re here.” Fran nodded.
Sookie spooned the spinach into her son’s open mouth, “Even if they don’t do anything about it, they know where they can come and find us later.” Sookie reached over and brushed back her son’s white-blond hair. It was growing longer and less fine, but Sookie was holding off on a haircut until Ricky was one.
The telepath didn’t have to say it. Lora did, “You have to leave the city.”
Fran nodded, “There are too many people here. You can’t be looking over your shoulder every moment.” Fran’s eyes were fastened on Ricky who was alternately eating and fussing, “And what about when he starts school?”
Lora smiled at Fran as she circled her arm around Sookie’s shoulder, “You have a plan.”
“I do,” Fran nodded. “I have that place in Chester. I don’t think they even believe in vampires yet. It’s a small town and the folks who live there all the time are a close group. All they have are schools, which are of no interest to vampires, and the artists in the summer. I don’t think there’s a light-tight room in the whole town. It’s quiet and off the grid.”
Sookie looked at her son, imagining what it would be like to grow up in a place like Chester, and the picture she was seeing in her mind felt good. “It would be the ideal place to raise a child,” Lora echoed Sookie’s thoughts.
“New England folks can be a little stand-offish, but they all know me and they knew my family,” Fran said. “They’ll see you in the house with me and they’ll take you into their hearts. Won’t find a more loyal, caring community anywhere, and they’ll watch your back.”
“Well, it’s all fine and good,” Sookie sighed, “but I won’t have any work there. It’s not like Sean can ship me his receipts, and I remember the town. There’s not much going on. I can’t be living out there and not have some way to pay my own way.” Sookie wiped her son’s mouth before turning to Fran, “You said it yourself, just heating that place in winter costs a fortune.”
“So turn it into a B&B,” Lora suggested. “I’ve been telling Fran for years that she should do it. With all those schools, the parents are always visiting. The closest hotel is miles away. There’s only one other place in town that offers rooms and Fran’s house is perfect.”
“You’d have to figure out the housekeeping, and those folks expect tea in the afternoon and breakfast before they leave,” Fran said. “Most of them are rich and entitled, and that will be a cramp in the ass, but you’d make enough to pay the taxes, the utilities, and have plenty left over.”
“You’d do that?” Sookie asked.
“You’d be doing me a favor,” Fran told her. “Cover the bills and I’m ahead. Plus, I don’t have to worry about the place sitting vacant most of the year.”
“I’d want to pay you something,” Sookie bit her lip.
“Shut the place down for the summer, so I can come out there whenever I want and we’ll call it even,” Fran told her. “I also want rooms available the first week in May every year because I’m coming out for my godson’s birthday.”
Sookie didn’t trust herself to speak. She knew about running a restaurant, and she knew how to keep a house. She was sure there were things she’d need to learn, but the possibility of living full time in that picture-perfect little town with its quaint houses and tidy green was a dream come true.
There were no movers needed. Sean offered to drive them, but the women declined. It was decided that once Sookie moved, Fran would cast a spell that would wipe her from the memories of those who had met her. Rae, the doctor who still examined Ricky, was on the list. Sean Bailey was as well.
“It’s for their own protection as much as yours,” Fran assured Sookie. “If they don’t know where you are, then no one will be motivated to torture them.” Sookie wasn’t quite sure that was true, but when she looked at her son’s face and considered what his life might be like as a hostage to vampires, the decisions became easier.
Sarah was waiting for them when they pulled up, the driveway and sidewalks already shoveled. Sookie had never seen so much snow and she was dazzled by it. The fields and woods that had been so lush and green were now bare, but no less lovely, covered in deep drifts of white.
“How long will the snow be around?” she asked Sarah.
“It can stick around well into April,” Sarah shrugged. “The old-timers won’t even put tomatoes in until Memorial Day.”
That afternoon the contractor walked through the house, making suggestions that would best convert the rooms. Two more bathrooms would be installed on the second floor and a bathroom would be added to the third floor as well. The downstairs bedroom that Fran used would be expanded into more of an apartment and Sookie and Ricky would live there for most of the year. When he finished, he sat down at the table, and Lora handed him a cup of coffee. The next hour was spent dickering over prices and schedules. Sarah reminded him she’d changed his diapers while Fran told him stories about his grandmother that had him laughing. It was agreed that the work would be completed in two weeks, and that Sookie and Ricky would live with Sarah until everything was ready.
“And don’t think I won’t track you down if you disappear to another worksite,” Fran warned him. “There’s no place you can hide from me! Ask your father!”
“Well, you’re not going for any of that crazy custom stuff,” the contractor laughed. “I can start day after tomorrow. If I have a problem with one of my guys becoming available, I’ll let you know.”
“If you have a problem with one of your guys becoming available, you give me their name,” Sarah looked serious. “There’s not one of these boys I don’t know and most of them owe me. This job needs to be done quick. This little boy,” and she pointed at Ricky who was watching everyone in his quiet, thoughtful way, “needs a good home, and I aim to give him one as good as any of you got,” and she leaned over the table. “Don’t think I’m going to let some foolishness get in the way!”
“You know I’ll pass it along,” the contractor nodded, and they all shook hands.
Fran and Lora left the next day and Sookie moved into Sarah’s spare bedroom. The room was crowded with the crib and Ricky’s things and, that first night, Sookie sat in bed, wondering if she was doing the right thing.
The contractor started work as promised, and with very little effort, Sookie settled into a routine. Sarah’s twin sons, Seth and Peter, adopted Ricky as their new play toy. They rolled him balls and pulled faces that made him laugh. In no time, the infant knew what time the boys left in the morning and what time they returned in the afternoon. He watched for them, making sounds that were uniquely theirs, and the boys nicknamed him “Chub.” “He’s built like a brick!” Peter exclaimed. “Have you lifted that kid? He weighs a ton!”
Sookie came to understand that there were really four towns in Chester; there was the town she saw that was centered around the Town Hall and the small green, and then there were the separate towns that were the three private schools. One of the schools, Grayson, taught children from first to sixth grade. Much like the other two, children were sent here to board. Sookie thought about what it had been like to move in with her Gran after her parents died. She wondered if that’s what it was like for these children, living so far from home.
The second school, Chester Academy, taught students in the sixth grade through twelfth. The students wore uniforms and there was a religious tradition, although the school didn’t dictate religious beliefs. There was a beautiful chapel on the grounds with a bell that rang every hour until midnight, and then picked up at six the next morning.
The third school, Morris-Tabor, was more of a traditional high school, but it boasted a rigorous college preparatory program that guaranteed its students consideration at the country’s top universities. While all the schools offered sports programs, Morris was the one that emphasized it and they hosted teams from other schools in competitions that spilled into the town on weekends.
At each of the schools, there was staff who lived on campus in housing provided for them. Their lives rotated around their school. Of course, they came into town to buy things like groceries and small gifts, much as the students and their parents did when they visited, but there was a clear separation between townspeople and academics.
It was just understood. If you were part of the school, that was your primary community. Teachers and administrators socialized amongst themselves and the amount of wealth the families of the students represented guaranteed that the interests and activities of both the teachers and the students were vastly different than the families who called Chester their home. The teachers were often part of their students’ lives and Sookie would overhear them talking about their latest trip to Europe or a field trip planned to some national park. She wondered about it sometimes, the difference that money could make for two people who lived so close to each other. Other times she worried about what it would mean for Ricky when he found himself in school with children who would have access to experiences he never would.
Once she was ready to open, Sookie dutifully met with the Headmaster or Headmistress of each school. She offered tours of the B&B and prepared samples of the breakfasts her guests might expect. She confirmed hours, rates, and had to provide references, but once the school people were convinced, the email booking site came to life, and Sookie found she had a full house until the end of the school year.
With each day, Sookie found that her place as a townsperson became more established. She felt it the first time the man who ran the small hardware store called her by name, and when she had a casual inquiry about Miss Fran’s health from the woman at Town Hall. The snow continued to fall and Sookie’s neighbors taught her the lessons of New England. She learned to brush ice from her bushes, so they wouldn’t break, and to not shovel all the way to the pavement since it would only melt and refreeze.
Night fell early, and Sookie found her evenings stretched unimaginably long and lonely after Ricky went to bed. She found herself staring out the window of her apartment, looking into a night sky with more stars than she ever remembered seeing. It was inevitable that her thoughts turned to Eric Northman. She thought of his blond perfection, and the way he’d tease her and shake his world-class ass in that sexy dance he had. She thought of the feel of him under her hands. She thought of the way his eyes would soften when he called her clever. At night, she used her fingers and memories of his lovemaking to find completion, and when the house was empty except for Ricky, she’d let herself call out his name when she came.
Her solitude felt like a friend but, over time, that changed. At first, she declined any invitations that came her way. After almost a month, though, Sookie allowed herself to be lured into helping out at the Library fundraiser. A few days later, Sarah guilted Sookie into joining the Chester Baby Playgroup with Ricky, reminding her that any normal child needed socialization. Once she attended a couple sessions, there was no turning back. The parents took their children to the town events, and they asked after Ricky. There was a small parade to honor some long-dead town leader and then there was the “End of Winter Bonfire.” At each event, it was Ricky’s smiling face that drew people toward them, and before the Patriot’s Day Celebration, Sookie realized she spent as many evenings out as she did at home. She had become a ‘townie.’
Aside from the social aspects, Sookie found that by being a full-time resident, Ricky would be attending the private schools in town. In fact, Chester didn’t even have its own public school. Instead, it had a special waiver from the state that recognized the Town’s special relationship with the private academies and it paid a stipend for each child to attend.
Sookie wondered why there weren’t more families interested in moving to Chester. It seemed so ideal. “It’s because we’re snobs,” Sarah explained. “Anyone who wants to buy land or real estate here has to be voted on by the whole town. Twice a year we get together at the Town Hall, all of us, and we govern this place through a Town Meeting. Everyone gets a say on everything.”
“You’ve met us,” Sarah winked. “We’re not the easiest bunch of folks to get along with, and there’s usually someone in town who won’t like you just because you’re a newcomer, so almost no one gets approved unless they have family or someone from here to vouch for them.”
“You’re kidding!” Sookie exclaimed. “Don’t you worry about getting sued?”
“Bring it on,” Sarah shrugged. “Besides, we don’t really have much of anything that would attract outside folks. No big box stores. No transportation. No thriving night life. We get artists who come here from time to time, and once we had a big Hollywood type who thought he could buy his way in. Boy, did he get shot down fast!” and she laughed.
“Still,” and Sookie shook her head, “It just seems wrong.”
“Look at it this way,” Sarah smiled. “You’ve been to the schools to introduce yourself and get your name on their referral list. Did you get a good look at those kids? Each one of those children can walk around town and go out into the fields and woods around here, just like any other kid because of how close we are. If you’re a stranger, we know right away. No one and nothing escapes notice and, because of that, those kids get as normal a childhood as they could ever expect, without having guards and flunkies following them around.”
Thinking of the children almost made up for the sense of unfairness that Sookie felt about things, and as the days passed, she came to appreciate the security the town provided more and more. Sookie moved back into the house, and just before Spring break, she had her first guests. Ricky was crawling and starting to pull himself up by holding onto things. It was clear he was mere days away from taking his first steps, and Sookie found she needed Sarah to help out making breakfasts in the morning since a second set of hands was essential with an active baby around. Together, the women worked out the best menus and their own way of moving around the kitchen. They used one of the formal sitting rooms as the guest dining room and the other as a guest lounge.
Sarah suggested using the walls to exhibit the work of resident artists and soon, Sookie was earning small commissions from the sales she made.
When Ricky’s first birthday came, Fran and Lora drove out and together they went to the town green to watch the annual May Day celebrations. There were Morris Dancers and a Maypole dance. Sookie helped cook pancakes for the whole town in a makeshift field kitchen and everywhere there were people singing and dancing.
The music here was something Sookie hadn’t anticipated. It seemed there were an unusual number of townspeople who played some kind of instrument. There were fiddlers and mandolin players. The woman who ran the post office played a concertina and Sarah’s twins were learning banjo. It wasn’t unusual to walk around a corner and hear someone playing that unique blend of country and acoustic instruments that folks here just called traditional music.
Bowing to the spirit of the day, the women wore willow branch crowns and had made a small one for Ricky, who promptly demonstrated his walking ability by throwing it in front of him, then scampering after it.
The day was sunny and bright. There was still a slight nip in the wind and the ground was cold under their feet. People waved and smiled, and a teenage girl whom Sookie knew asked if she could take Ricky to do the Maypole dance. Soon the smiling child was being passed around, his face reflecting his joy.
“He is a special boy,” Fran squeezed Sookie’s arm.
“He’s so happy here,” Sookie agreed.
“You are, too,” Lora observed.
Sookie nodded, “I am. I’ve feel like I’ve started a new phase of my life.”
“And what would that be?” Fran asked her.
“My ‘Ricky’s Mommy’ phase,” Sookie replied, and hugging Fran, she said, “and it feels good.”
So it seemed that ten years passed in the blink of an eye.
For many years, Ricky thought the town’s May Day celebration was his own private birthday celebration, and Fran and Lora came every year to help him keep that illusion.
Along the way, there were milestones that Sookie thought of as turning points.
There was the day Sookie received a call from Ricky’s second grade teacher. Ricky was telling his classmates that his father was a spy, which was why no one knew who he was. “I don’t know what to tell him,” the teacher sighed over the phone. “I thought you should know.”
Sookie called Fran in a panic. She wasn’t sure what she should tell Ricky, but it was clear that not telling him anything was not keeping the questions at bay.
“What do you think you should say to him?” Fran asked.
“I really don’t want to tell him about Sam,” Sookie sighed. “How do I tell him his Father is someone I didn’t love enough to stay with? How do I…”
“How do you keep telling yourself such an obvious lie?” Fran snapped.
“What are you talking about?” Sookie asked.
“That boy is not Sam Merlotte’s, and you know it!” Fran growled. “Shit, Sookie! You are a smart woman about so many things. How can you be so stupid about this?”
“Well,” Sookie sat down heavily in her kitchen chair, “There was no one else.”
“Sure, there was,” Fran chuckled. “It’s rare, but it’s not unheard of. Legend mostly, but anyone who looks at that boy knows he’s Eric Northman’s.”
“That’s a cruel thing to say,” Sookie choked.
“Truth can be,” Fran agreed, “but take a minute for the shock to wear off. You know I’m right and when you catch your breath, you’re going to realize how happy you are about this.”
Sookie sat very still. She breathed deeply and thought about what Fran was telling her. She saw her son’s face and she thought of Eric’s, and it was as if blinders fell from her eyes. “Oh, shit,” she sighed.
“He was always going to need to be protected,” Fran said in the silence. “What you have to consider is whether you will make it okay for your son to go find his father.”
“Eric will never believe it,” Sookie sighed. “He’ll think it’s a trick.”
“You could have him examined by someone who knows what they’re doing,” Fran said helpfully. “There are a few Supe doctors out there who could verify things.”
“I know one,” Sookie sighed again. “Amy Ludwig. I’m pretty sure I know how to get in touch with her, but I’m also pretty sure that if she finds out, others will, too.” Sookie thought about it, “Look, there’s no reason for anyone outside of us to know. There’s nothing about him on the outside that looks different. If that changes, then I’ll figure it out.”
“What about your vampire?” Fran asked. “Don’t you think he should know?”
“Eric belongs to someone else,” Sookie said. “Ricky is all I have,” and although it was not a good answer, it was the only one Sookie wanted to consider.
That night when Ricky came home, Sookie told him about his daddy. She told Ricky how she met him and how his daddy courted her. She told him about how smart his daddy was and strong and brave. “You look just like him,” she told her son, and, with her new eyes, Sookie could see how true her words were.
“Where is he?” Ricky asked.
“He’s dead, Honey,” Sookie told him, and that was the truth, too.
In retrospect, the change in Ricky almost seemed to link back to that conversation.
The next year Ricky was playing lacrosse on the school team. He had always been stronger and bigger than most of his peers and he ran faster as well. His play in other years was generous, but, this year, the coaches told the boys to get aggressive, and Ricky seemed to take it to heart. During the opening game, he checked his opponent hard and the kid hit the ground like he’d been struck by a car. The kid broke his arm and was out for the rest of the season. Everyone said it was an accident, but Ricky dropped out of lacrosse after that and refused to play any more team sports.
The twins convinced Ricky to try track, and it became the boy’s excuse to take off for hours at a time, running the trails through the woods. It made Sookie nervous and, when he would disappear, she would scan the trees, making sure she kept track of him and any other beings out there he might encounter. One day it was turning to afternoon and Ricky had been gone longer than usual. Sookie left the serving of afternoon tea in Sarah’s capable hands and took off down the trail toward where she could sense her son. When she reached the clearing, she couldn’t see him and she had a moment of panic, but then she looked up.
Ricky was sitting high above her, his feet dangling from a branch of the tree. For one, mad, moment, Sookie thought he had inherited Eric’s gift of flight and had flown up there. She resisted the urge to yell at him, afraid of startling him.
“Oh, Hi, Mom,” he called down, as if it was the most normal thing.
“What are you doing up there, Son?” Sookie asked, struggling to keep her voice calm.
“Oh,” he shrugged, “I do this all the time. I like to think up here,” and, with no hesitation, Ricky started down the tree, dropping from branch to branch. Sookie’s heart was in her mouth the whole time, waiting for his hand to slip or his foot to miss the branch, but he didn’t. He jumped down the remaining six feet and landed lightly, and Sookie wondered again how he’d made the leap to the branch overhead.
Walking home, Sookie said, “I don’t like you doing that, Ricky. What would happen if you were alone in the woods and you were hurt? How would we know to get you help?”
“You’d know,” he said, and then Ricky touched his forehead, “You’d know because you can hear me.” Sookie had never discussed her telepathy with Ricky. From time to time, she probed him, looking for signs that he, too, was telepathic, but she’d never had any inkling that her son had inherited her gift, and she was grateful. Sookie bit her lip and turned to ask her son how he knew, but he stopped, and his eyebrow lifted in a way that was the mirror of his father’s. “What? You think I’m stupid?” he challenged. When Sookie didn’t answer, he shook his head, and walked ahead of her. “I’ve known forever,” he answered her unasked question.
“Can you read my thoughts?” she asked for the first time aloud.
“No,” he shook his head, “but I don’t need to be in your head to know what you’re thinking most times.”
“What about other people?” Sookie asked.
“Nope,” and then Ricky grinned, “not yet.”
When he entered fourth grade, Ricky told his mother he was no longer a baby, and he didn’t want to be called by a baby’s name. From that day forward, he was to be called Rick. It was everything Sookie could do not to laugh at first. He was taller, but still shorter than her. He had avoided the rounding out that many of his peers were experiencing. He was still running and if he was climbing trees, he took care, so his mother didn’t catch him.
As he sat at the dinner table, Sookie noticed that his face was becoming leaner, the roundness of his cheeks thinning out. He was engrossed in a math exercise and, as usual, didn’t ask nor need her help. Rick was at the top of his class, but he finished his work with such an easy arrogance that it made the teachers hold him to a higher standard than the other kids.
As winter approached, Rick started offering his services around town. He mowed lawns and hauled brush. He helped clean out basements and stacked firewood. He pocketed every cent. “What are you working toward?” Sookie asked him.
“I haven’t decided yet,” was his standard answer.
Then, one day in late October, he came down the street hauling a used kayak. The paddle and life jacket were in it. He wanted to test it on the river right away, but there had been rain and Sookie convinced him to wait for the water level to drop. Fortunately, she was saved by an early snowstorm and there were no more opportunities to test out the kayak that season. The twins helped Rick take the kayak into the barn out back and Sookie thought her worrying was over until spring.
What she hadn’t counted on was that Rick would have money left over and that he would buy a sled. It was really more of a toboggan, but it was smaller and could be manhandled by one person. As soon as the ground was covered, Rick headed off into the woods. There were some of the kids from town with him and Sookie felt better, knowing her son wasn’t alone.
It was just starting to get dark when one of the kids ran up on the porch and banged on the door. They had found an old abandoned barn and between the boy’s gasps, Sookie gathered her son had taken his sled up on the sloped side roof and used it as a ski jump. The toboggan had gone up and her son had come down. He was hurt and the kids needed help bringing him home.
Sookie bundled her clothes on and hurried down the trail. It was slow going in the snow, but they could still see the trail the boys had left earlier. They weren’t too far from the house when they came upon the rest of the boys dragging a sled. Ricky was on it, his pale face pinched in pain.
The doctor from Morris-Tabor came out to the house. Rick’s leg was broken, so they all bundled into the doctor’s car and took the ride over to the school infirmary. Ricky spent the rest of the winter in a cast, and Sookie was guilt-struck at how grateful she felt that her son’s wings had been clipped.
It was during the follow-up visit that the doctor mentioned that Rick was anemic. Since the accident, Rick had started to tire more easily and he seemed to sleep more, but Sookie had written it off to the demands of his healing body. “No, it’s more than that,” the doctor told her. “I’m prescribing an iron supplement, and we should monitor him on a regular basis.”
The next shoe fell during Rick’s dental exam; the hygienist took x-rays of Rick’s emerging canines. What the film showed were fangs, there was no other word to describe them.
“It’s a rare condition,” the dentist said in his professional way. “There is a procedure that can be performed that will cap those teeth, so they fit in with the rest of his mouth.” Sookie knew otherwise. Her son was beginning to manifest his inheritance, and if she had any lingering doubts as to his parentage, the films in her hand took care of them.
That night Sookie talked with Fran on the phone about Rick’s upcoming birthday, and she told Fran about the other things, too.
“Just as well,” Fran told her. “I know you don’t get news where you are, but you should know Mr. Cataliades is coming with us this year. There’s trouble in Supe world. The truce between Stan Davis and Felipe de Castro is pretty well over. There will be one more meeting, a Summit, in Denver. They are going to try to negotiate their differences. If it fails, there’s talk of open war.”
“What does that have to do with me?” Sookie asked.
“I’ll let the attorney go into details, but there’s a search on to find you. De Castro is claiming that you are a vassal of his kingdom and Stan Davis is making noises about victors getting the spoils. It’s not pretty, but Desmond has a plan.”
That night, Sookie couldn’t sleep. For ten long, wonderful years she had hidden in Chester. People here knew her and they watched out for Rick. No one thought she was different, or at least different in a way that made her less. It was one of the things she loved about this place. The townspeople, and even the school people, took pride on being unique and it allowed she and Ricky to blend into the community.
Rick had the childhood Sookie always dreamed of, but she worried that their happy lives might be coming to an end.