Chapter 26 – Hope
Tissues – more of an AWWWW chapter.
We learn something that makes you want to give someone(s) the frying pan treatment (not me)
“Claudine, you made it!”
“Yes Sookie, sorry it took me the whole week. Claude was out of town so I ran his bar. But more on that tonight when we all meet.”
“Well come in, come in and meet my baby and niece.” Claudine moved into Hunter’s room and walked to the side of his bed. “Claudine Crane, this is Hunter Stackhouse.” Hunter glared at his mother and sent his concerns via his thoughts. Hearing his comments, she amended her introduction. “Well, soon to be Hunter Northman.”
“Hello Hunter, it’s nice to meet more family.”
“Hiya Miss. Crane.”
“OH! Miss Crane is too formal.” She waved her hands for emphasis then put a finger to her chin as she thought. “You can call me – let’s see – ah Aunt Claudine?”
Hunter sported a big smile. “Ok, Aunt Claudine.”
Sookie motioned to the other bed. “And this is my niece, Johanna Fortenberry. I told you about her when we spoke.”
“Well aren’t you the pretty princess?”
Johanna giggled and said, “No, you pwetty Miss Cwane.”
“Well thank you. You know, I think you should call me Aunt Claudine as well.”
“Ok Aunt Cwadine. Wi’ you pway dowwy with me?”
“I hear lunch is coming in, how about after?”
“Otay. Can me help you?”
Claudine looked at Sookie with a question in her eyes. “She gets me and you mixed up sometimes.”
“So she needs help with lunch?”
“Yes, I usually assist her with getting started when her folks aren’t here; they’re on their honeymoon today. She just needs help opening the silverware packet and cutting her food depending on what they serve.”
“Well, I’d be honored to help you.”
Claudine stayed through the kids’ lunch and played both dolly with Johanna then Viking village with Hunter. The two women found they were able to converse easily about their lives. Sookie was fascinated with her cousin’s long life and the Fae realm. Claudine was focused on learning about motherhood. She didn’t want to try to get pregnant again but she still wished for a child. Since Sookie told her that Jessica and Hoyt were still on their honeymoon through dinner on Wednesday she agreed to come back and visit with the kids the next day. Yes, the nurses were there but since Hoyt quit his job and started coming to the hospital every day, Johanna was accustomed to the personal approach now. She left just before sunset knowing Eric would be arriving soon and while she trusted Eric for the most part she was still a little nervous around him. The scheduled meeting for later that night already had her worried.
As planned, Eric and Sookie met up with Ludwig at Claude’s bar. Mustapha and Bobby also attended as backup if needed. Claude was in no better of a mood when the meeting began; at least he wasn’t cuffed this time so that made him slightly less unhappy.
“Did you enjoy your trip to Ireland, Claude?” Eric started.
“My unplanned trip that required my sister to run my bar while I was gone?”
“Hush Claude, you know I didn’t mind and you caught up with friends. Don’t make yourself out to be such a martyr.”
“Did you find anything?”
“I found a fairy, Dr. Rowan Dayan, willing to come to the states and work with Ludwig under three conditions.”
“She never wants to meet you.”
“That’s fine as long as she’s aware I will be with Hunter at night.”
“I’ll ensure she’s aware that she should be gone from Ludwig’s facility by sundown.”
“She wants expenses plus $50,000 a week.” Eric nodded, wanting to get this done. “She needs a place to meet with her patients as needed.”
Eric looked at Ludwig and she nodded. “Done. When can she be here?”
“Two weeks at the most.”
“What do we need in place? Claude? Ludwig?”
“She gave me a list of equipment she’ll need but she may require more. This isn’t something she knows how to fix from experience; she’s a brilliant doctor from our realm and has only agreed to consult as she can.”
“Is she trapped here?”
“No, she’s on earth willingly. There aren’t too many Fae doctors here so she’s in high demand. Hence your payment terms.”
“I need Hunter.”
“The judge is working to expedite the adoption. I spoke to him this evening, he’s located the adoption paperwork in the system and has called the head of social services; he’s cooperating. He’s cleared his court cases for the morning so he can dedicate his day.” Sookie face lit up brightly. This was really happening.
“Good Northman. I’m ready for both of them at my facility.”
Eric and Sookie exchanged a look. “You’re putting them together right?” Ludwig nodded. “Do you have any other kids right now?”
“No. I run a small operation. I have some other Weres there and then the office hours. Two vampires in the light tight unit.”
Claudine panicked. “You’re putting Hunter into a facility with vampires?”
Eric answered since he’d checked on this very concern. “I verified the security. He will be safe. The vampires cannot move on their own from the light tight level to anywhere else once they are locked in. Ludwig will call me before any additional vampires are admitted. I’m the oldest in the area besides Thalia, and I’ll call her for transport if needed. She already guards Sookie and Hunter occasionally so that’s not a problem.”
“Claudine. Your concerns would apply to younger vampires – but truly older vampires can control themselves. I can assure you, I’ll be monitoring this situation.”
“Sookie, surely. . . “
“I trust Hunter’s father to ensure his safety.” It was spoken clearly indicating her feelings.
“If we’re all set on next steps, we can adjourn for the evening.”
“One more thing.”
“I’ve got them Sookie. They’re in my car; I’ll walk out with you.”
They left after Sookie had the letters and Claudine confirmed she’d be back at the hospital to visit again and headed to the kids. Maxine was with them, but she got in late the night before from the wedding and had expressed that she was tired. She never admitted to being tired – the need to go home early that is – so they wanted to respect her request and get her on the road as quickly as possible. They talked on the drive back about the call Eric had with the judge. “So, was it really just a ride home last night or is he going to see Maxine again?”
“He asked her to dinner for Friday night.”
Sookie squealed. “Maxine’s been alone for a long time. Even if it’s just a friend it’ll be good.”
“Same for Charles. He knows he needs to be kind.”
“Didya show him your fangs?” She smirked at him.
Eric knew she was referring to Hunter’s comment from the night before and laughed. “It was really hard to keep a straight face even with the tension in the room.”
“I was listening in – mostly to catch Jason’s thoughts but I heard everyone. You weren’t the only one having a hard time keeping a straight face.” She laughed for just another moment before she turned more serious. “So did you threaten my brother when you . . . ah helped him out of the hospital?”
“Yes.” He looked at her closely and felt for her reaction in the bond. He was surprised. “You’re not angry?”
“No. Sad that it may come to that, but not angry.”
After he parked the car at the hospital, he walked around to help her out. He wanted to check on her progress of something but she usually hated it. With Hunter moving to Ludwig’s, he had to know. “How’s the weight this week.”
“Up a total of 7 pounds. The protein drinks are helping I guess.”
“That’s good. Should you add more?”
“I’ll ask Dr. Ludwig.”
“I have another health question.”
She could see he was worried to ask. “I’ve got my worrier tonight, huh?”
“Yes.” They were still walking slowly and he looked around for a moment before he continued. “I’ll ask later – it’s not for a public area.”
“We might get a private elevator.”
“If we do, I’m not using it for talk.”
After seeing Maxine to her limo, Eric rejoined Sookie and Hunter in his room where he and Hunter spent more time playing with the Viking village. Sookie watched Brave with Johanna, a movie that Hunter declined, not wanting to get caught into liking another princess movie by accident.
Even over the sound of the movie, Sookie could hear Eric and Hunter playing some kind of war scenario with his characters; she guessed maybe it wasn’t the right thing for a kid but with Eric as his father, war games were inevitable. Johanna didn’t make it for the full movie so Sookie tucked her in and lay in Hunter’s bed while Eric bathed his son; as usual there was lots of laughter coming from the bathroom. It was Eric’s last night with Hunter until after his new bar manager, Boudewijn, arrived on Sunday for training. Even then, he would need to be at the bar opening and closing until the turnover was complete so Eric was making the most of his last bit of time. Hunter was in Eric’s arms wrapped in a towel when they walked out of the bath and Eric was pretty wet. “What did you do to Daddy?”
Hunter grinned. “I got him good.”
“Gee thanks baby. If I wanted to sit with Daddy I’ll get wet.”
“It’s Gramma’s fault really.”
“She bought me some new squirty bath toys.” He smiled then immediately changed to a new topic on Gramma. “Did you know she has a DATE this Friday? I didn’t even have to write a letter!”
Sookie and Eric laughed at him. “Imagine that Hunter. Dating does occur without your help.”
“Not you guys.”
“No baby, you’re completely responsible for us and we thank you for it.”
Eric handed Hunter to Sookie where she sat on the bed. “I thought you should dress him since I’ll just get him wet. I’m running to the car for a new shirt. My jeans seem to be mostly dry.”
“He’ll be ready for sleep when you get back.”
Eric put his son to sleep as he’d done the prior night and since it wasn’t too late, he and Sookie had some time to talk before he went to handle the bar’s closure. He’d checked with Chow who opened and so far there were no problems, but he knew he needed to get over there soon; he just didn’t want to leave. One topic had puzzled him over the past few days and he thought it related to Sookie’s health so he wanted to discuss this before he left. In fact, since he started thinking about her health, he realized that all the doctor visits centered on Hunter and for Sookie the only thing mentioned was her weight.
“Yes Sweetie?” She was sitting on his lap in one of the chairs. “You had a health question?”
“Yes. When was the last time you had a check-up?”
“I’m fine. Silly.”
“That’s good but it’s not what I asked.”
“Does my trip to the ER count?” He just shook his head and did not share her amusement. “Then I don’t know. I’ve generally been very healthy.”
“Which is likely your Fae heritage, it’s my understanding they aren’t a race that gets sick to easily.”
“Except for lemon and iron intolerance.” He agreed with a nod. “Where is this coming from?”
“Well, we’ve been intimate for over a month.” He paused unsure of how to bring this up – mostly out of consideration of her sometimes sensitive emotions. “You haven’t had a monthly.”
Yep, he embarrassed her and her face went into her hands. “Jesus Eric, is nothing sacred with you? Where’s my sweet talkin’ wooer?”
“You’re my future wife; I think we should be able to discuss such things. I’m not being nosy, I’m just worried.”
Oh, he wasn’t going to like this and would likely start shoving even more calories down her throat. “I haven’t had a period – that’s the lingo – for over a year. I asked one of the nurses here about it.” She stopped and he felt her worry.
“What did the nurse say?”
“It’s something we’re addressing already. It happens when you don’t have enough body fat.” He held his comments in because she really was working on it.
“Ok, but let’s have you get a check-up too.”
She rolled her eyes at him but agreed. It was nice that someone cared – even if he did embarrass her with his questions. “Yes Dear.”
“Good answer. We’ll take care of that when we move Hunter to Ludwig’s facility.”
“I’m pushy about this because I love you.”
“I’m accepting your high handedness because I love you more.”
Later that same night, Eric sat on his throne reading a summary from the DA and Mustapha regarding the case against Sabrina and the 8 sets of foster parents that would be arrested – hopefully in a matter of days. Apparently, Sabrina had positioned herself as THE case worker for difficult to place foster children with serious or terminal illnesses for the entire state – not just her own Parish. Mustapha questioned how this was never noticed and researched further. Sabrina’s immediate boss was investigated but the most he could find was that she authorized Sabrina’s work likely out of naivety. There was no evidence that she was benefitting from a payoff.
Sabrina, however, was benefitting. Mustapha traced payments from foster parents to Sabrina for $100 a month per child. It wasn’t that much money but given her Parish salary was so low, the extra $24,000 a year almost doubled her income and was paid without taxes. Further investigation on Mustapha’s part showed that once Sabrina got a taste of cheating the system, she expanded her fraud. He found 5 additional foster families with 3 or 4 kids each that didn’t actually exist. Couples were receiving payments for kids that nobody had ever seen. For those – she nearly split the payouts and took in an additional $250/month for each kid. That gave her yet an additional $51,000 a year – straight out of the parish funds for social services. Mustapha had bank records, paperwork on the ‘false’ children, and testimonies from the hospital staff across the state on the lack of interaction the foster parents had with the hospitalized kids. The DA would be given an ironclad body of evidence to use against Sabrina. He couldn’t wait to see this woman go down.
Mustapha had attached a detailed listing of each real foster child and Eric grew concerned about their fate. He’d ask Mustapha to follow-up on the procedures for each of these children after foster parents were no longer available. While their foster parents may have been robbing the system, in some cases these parents were the ONLY thing these kids did have and that bothered him. He’d do whatever was needed to ensure some continuation of care was maintained. Out of curiosity, he started scanning through the files of the kids on his phone when his breath caught. One of the foster families had three children: Two older boys and a baby girl just 5 months old and in the hospital waiting for a heart donor. It was the baby girl that drew his attention: She was the youngest in the whole list. Reading about this baby just a day after he and Sookie spoke of having a girl together seemed more than a coincidence. He shot a note to Mustapha and Ludwig to learn more and hoped her illness was easily healed by Ludwig. His difficulty would be NOT mentioning the infant to Sookie; he wanted to know the reality of adoption first.
To clear his thoughts, he walked the bar area and dance floor just to ensure things were under control and the patrons were being served. He found no issues so he went to his office for a short while and called to check on Sookie and Hunter. As they spoke he could feel her concern but he wasn’t sure where it was coming from. “What’s going on in that head of yours?”
“Eric, that fairy wants $50,000 a week Eric.”
“What if . . .”
“What if nothing. Sookie, we’ve not discussed this in detail but I’ve told you 1000 years is a long time to accumulate wealth. I’m a billionaire Sookie. Most of it hidden around the world. She could stay a year and it won’t matter. Each and every day I make more money than we could spend and that’s just investments. My active businesses are all quite lucrative.” He could only hear a faint sound – something like a whimper – but no words. “Sookie?”
Knowing Eric was wealthy was one thing – hearing the details had her speechless. “I . . . uh . . . Ok. I guess you really do get to be a stay at home dad for as long as you want then.”
“And you can be whatever you want. I’m thinking rich, spoiled, pampered. . .”
She let out a laugh at his words. “That could get boring. For now though, I can’t think past getting Hunter healed.”
“Then don’t. He’s our focus.”
That simple reality grounded her. The money wasn’t important, her son – THEIR son was. “You’re right. OK.”
He could hear and feel that she was tired so he ended the call and was back on the throne watching over the bar. Just a short while later he received an email; it was Mustapha with an update. Per his research he discovered that the baby, Celia, was born prematurely to a teen mother in August. Her medical condition appeared to be the same as Johanna’s, though he would need Ludwig to interpret all the medical language in the records he hacked from her hospital in Baton Rouge. Seeing the hospital location gave him an idea. It was pretty late but he hoped she would help.
A sleepy hello answered the phone. “Genny. Sorry to disturb you, this is Eric Northman.”
“Eric. I just fell asleep watching the news. Guess it wasn’t all that interesting tonight. You woke me; now I can make it to my bed so I thank you.”
He chuckled. “Glad to be of accidental service to you. How are you doing, other than bored by the news?”
“I’m well. I’m more interested in how you, Sookie and Hunter are.”
“We are all great Genny. Thank you for asking. Sookie and I are engaged and we’ve found two new doctors for Hunter – we have hope.”
“You work fast but I don’t blame you. You both seemed so happy when I saw you at Christmas. And Eric, having hope is huge.” She paused then continued. “Is your news why you called? Will I receive an invitation to the big event?”
“If you’re willing to travel out of state we’d love to have you. I did want to tell you but it’s not why I called. I have a favor to ask.”
“I’m intrigued. Go on please.”
“There’s a baby girl in the foster system and she’s in Baton Rouge. Her name is Celia.”
“I know Celia. Well, I know one of her foster brothers; he’s just decided on his wish.”
“Ahh, then my call to you is even more appropriate I guess. Have you spent time with her, the baby?”
“I was in the nursery once; her brother introduced her. Poor thing. The boy, Kevin, is 8 years old and he’s the only visitor she ever has. He felt bad for her. The nurses provide care, but the foster family never comes in to hold her or rock her. The nurses told me Kevin would go in at least once a day when he was up to it. It was evident that the little girl liked her foster brother; when we walked in she got a big smile on her face and started flailing her arms around. So sweet.”
Kevin, per Mustapha’s information, had cancer. While it might seem like he and Celia should stay together, cancer was most certainly something that vampire blood did not fix. Hearing about Celia’s lonely life had his heart aching to help. “Genny, I know this is a lot to ask.” He stopped and took an unnecessary breath. “Would you go visit her tomorrow?”
“Eric, what’s this about?”
Eric told Genny the entire backstory about Hunter’s case worker and her illegal actions. He added information about all the foster parents and their upcoming arrests. To give Genny the full picture, he talked about the list of children that would be impacted and how he found Celia. “So that’s the background Genny. For Celia, I’m hoping I have an opportunity to see to her healing and possibly have Sookie adopt her.”
“WOW, when you decide to go family, you go all in don’t you?”
He let out a small chuckle, a sound Genny liked to hear. “I guess I do. I have lots to do before we move forward. For now, I just want to know what she’s like so I can tell Sookie tomorrow.
“I’ll do it of course Eric. I’ll make up a reason to visit Kevin and we can spend time with his foster sister.”
“Thank you Genny.”
“I’ll call you tomorrow about Celia.” She was quiet just for a second then started again. “Eric, what about the other kids?”
“I’ve asked my investigator, Mustapha, to research what will happen.”
“I don’t agree with the woman’s behavior at all, but finding fosters for these sick kids probably isn’t an easy task.”
“I know and I hate this part. For some of these kids, these neglectful foster parents may be THE only thing they know – however bad it may be.”
Genny’s wheels were turning. She thought of some of the friends she had at her church and started to wonder. . . “Eric. Can you have Mustapha call me? I want to think something through but I have an idea.”
“I’ll talk to you tomorrow then and I’ll be checking my mail for the wedding invitation. Whatever state you go to – I’ll be there. I’m tickled pink for you and your new family.”
“You would be an honored guest for your role in getting us together.”
“Don’t make an old lady blush Eric. You just have those kids call me Mima or something like that and we’ll call it even.”
He hung up the phone and thought about Genny’s statement. Her life was similar to his. Childless, human childless, and aging – well he didn’t age but he was old. From what Sookie told him he knew Genny had no family so maybe another adoptive Mima was in order. He wanted to call his friend, the judge and ask about the adoption, but decided it was too late and he didn’t know enough at the moment. He sent an email to Mustapha to call him the next day on his behalf and speak in generalities about the other foster children and the possibility of adopting a second child. Mustapha would probably fall off his chair upon reading the request. Even Eric was questioning his actions but not enough to stop moving forward.
Since he had Viking Industries work to complete and instructions for Mustapha and Bobby he went home after Fangtasia was closed. He hated missing out on resting time with Sookie and Hunter but he was really quite behind on some tasks so he needed to focus.
He rose the next night to several messages that pleased him. Judge Charles had spoken to social services management and he would have everything he needed to process the adoption by the next morning. If all went well, Hunter would be adopted by the time he rose the next night. He also received a follow-up from Charles that if Eric wanted, he would grant Sookie temporary custody of Celia (knowing a few steps would need to be completed to grant full custody) as soon as he could get the paperwork. From there, Eric could have the baby transferred to whatever hospital they wanted. While this pleased him, he still needed to hear from Ludwig about the baby’s health. Knowing if she could be healed or not was important but he’d actually decided it didn’t matter. If Ludwig couldn’t heal her, it would be hard to love her knowing she might not survive, but he didn’t think he could ignore the baby now that he’d gotten a glimpse of her world. Ludwig’s call put him at ease. Celia’s condition appeared to be almost identical to Johanna and since they already had high hopes for blood healing, she saw no reason to consider Celia terminal. If needed, just as she would for Johanna, she’d obtain a heart.
The final message was a voice-mail from Genny that gushed over Celia and referred him to his email for pictures, including one a nurse had taken from Genny’s phone. When he opened it he smiled. This baby was beautiful and smiling as Genny held her, the other had her on some colorful background and her smile could light up the room. He hated to use the word fate but he was having a hard time resisting. He called Genny from speakerphone while he dressed.
“Eric! Did you get my picture?”
“I did Genny. You look like the perfect Mima with that beautiful baby.” He looked at the picture again. “What’s she like?”
“I walked in with Kevin and Eric! My goodness what a reaction: She smiled and gurgled at the boy. She took to my holding her immediately. The nurses really do work to keep her stimulated and well cared for physically but I had a hard time leaving – I feel like she’s starved for love Eric. She’s a little small, but if you think you can heal her that’ll work out.”
The comment about her being starved for love struck him, but he put it aside. He needed to focus on getting her as soon as possible; then he and Sookie could remedy that. “I spoke to my doctor already; we have promising options for that.”
“What are you doing next?”
“Talking to Sookie.”
“Keep me informed Eric. I’m going again tomorrow. I just can’t get enough of her.”
Tonight he was stopping by the hospital first so he texted Chow to go in and do the opening prep for him. If he only stayed for a while, he’d be in time to open the bar. Showing Sookie the baby and ascertaining her feelings on the adoption was too important to wait.
“DADDY!” He got the excitement he wanted from his family when he walked in.
“This is a wonderful surprise Sweetie.”
“Yeah Daddy. What’s going on?”
“I need to talk to Mommy about something – I can’t stay long. I’ll only have time to tell you a quick story after I’m done with Mommy.”
“Can we walk for a few minutes?”
“Sure, let me hook up Hunter.”
He led her to the waiting room. “Sookie, I discovered something last night that I wanted to share with you.”
“It sounds like something bad but you’re smile is huge.”
“I think it’s great. I’m not sure how you will feel about it and I need you to be honest.”
“I was reviewing the files of all the kids that will be impacted when we go after Sabrina and the foster parents involved with her fraud.”
“OH MY GOD! I’ve never stopped to think about those kids! Only Hunter and Johanna.”
He stopped her before she spiraled. “Sookie, we’re partners, remember. I’m looking into this part of the situation. Relax. There is one child, the youngest.” He took an unnecessary breath. “She’s five months old and Sookie, she . . . she’s just beautiful.” He held up his phone. “I’ve got a picture.”
Sookie’s eyes were filling with tears before she even looked at the picture and when she saw the baby, the tears came full on. “Oh Eric. She is beautiful. You sent Genny to see her?” He nodded. “Are you thinking what I hope you’re thinking?”
“Sookie, I only need your approval to move forward. I’ve arranged for you to have temporary custody so we can move her to Ludwig’s and eventually adopt her. But, and I mean this, ONLY if you want it. I’ll do anything to help all these kids so only do this if you wa. . . .”
“Stop Eric!” She looked at the picture of the baby she’d already fallen in love with and asked. “What’s our new baby’s name?”
His relief was evident in his face. “Celia. Her name is Celia.”