Chapter 30 – Love at First Sight
Pretty much all:
The room gave an almost collective sob at Eric’s words and actions, even the old biddy, Dr. Ludwig. Thankfully Celia chose that moment to fill her diaper making a loud noise of her own, giving them all some much needed comic relief. Eric gave out his own sob combined with a chortle and spoke again to his baby. “Mima told you to do that when you got here, didn’t she?” Celia just flailed her arms and laughed at Eric. Her happiness even with a stranger surprised him, but it shouldn’t have; Genny had told him she was a very cheerful baby and seeing it gave him a pleasure he couldn’t describe.
Sookie had outfitted the changing table earlier that day with the supplies Bobby bought so she led Eric over. “Do you want me to do this?”
“No, I’m ready.”
“So am I.” He heard from his side and he laughed when he saw Genny with a camera in her hands.
“No pressure. I see I have a full audience.” He did: Charles and Maxine stood behind Genny with Ludwig off to the side but in a position to still see everything he did. She knew seeing this was akin to spotting a unicorn. Hoyt and Jessica had backed up some to give everyone space, but they could still essentially see what was happening.
Again, Eric praised Sookie, this time with a kiss to her forehead and whispered thanks for their practice session just that morning. Of course, the stuffed animal they’d used didn’t have actual poop or all the cracks and crevices that Celia did, but he managed to get her clean even if it took him 4 wash clothes to do it. He also commented, “Our practice toy didn’t squirm like my baby girl.”
Sookie sobbed again when he used the phrase ‘my baby girl’ but regained control quickly; she didn’t want to be crying in EVERY one of the pictures Genny was taking. Once Celia was redressed (including new socks since she’d managed to get her heel in the messy diaper before Eric could stop her) he offered her to Sookie but she insisted Eric keep her. Genny had said she would likely want a bottle as she’d just woken up and Sookie couldn’t wait to see him feeding her. Not wanting to miss out on meeting her baby though, she did hold a hand and lean in to kiss Celia’s face – again causing the baby to laugh. After introducing herself, she pivoted so Hunter was right next to her and he proudly told Celia he was her brother and would be looking after her now. Maxine was a blubbering mess and had turned into Charles for comfort which he immediately offered (An action that nobody missed).
Theresa was prepared for a feeding and had already used the heater they had in the room and handed the bottle to Eric after he settled into the rocker with his baby, Genny snapping pictures practically every few seconds. Sookie monitored Hunter the whole time: Saying he was prepared to share Eric was one thing, but living it was another. Hunter had been right though, he was in awe at seeing his daddy so relaxed and comfortable with Celia. He also couldn’t wait to hold her so Sookie knew they’d do that after she fed.
One of Sookie’s greatest joys with Hunter as a baby was the satisfying feeling she got when feeding him. This was something she knew Eric would enjoy as well; he certainly liked ensuring that Sookie was fed. Gentle rocking and cooing at Celia seemed to happen on instinct as he focused on his baby. Finally having her here was even better than he’d thought it would be and he just relaxed and enjoyed the feeding. Sookie had told him about burping when they practiced so he stopped after she had about half the bottle, burped her and then resumed the feeding. Mima raised a brow at Sookie and Sookie just said, “He’s been preparing for this.”
“I can see that.”
Sookie turned her questions to Genny for a moment, though her gaze never strayed from Eric and Celia. “Genny, I’m thrilled you’re here for this. How did that happen?”
“I’ve been spending my days with Celia in preparation for her move here. I was assigned as her advocate until you were granted temporary custody. Which, we never announced, happened today.”
Charles stepped in. “Genny and I have been in constant communication this whole time to expedite the custody change. She was also concerned about Celia’s transition so she learned her routine and is prepared to stay here in Shreveport for as long as needed to assist.” Eric looked up and smiled at the woman who had helped make so much happen. Charles caught his eye and added. “She’s staying with Maxine and they plan to get their limo rides out on a daily basis.” Eric nodded his approval then went right back to Celia. She’d started pulling on his long hair and that certainly got his attention. Sookie saved him by gathering it back into a low pony tail.
After Celia took a few more draws on the bottle, Eric decided to give Sookie a turn; he also wanted to see her with the baby AND check on Hunter himself. Gingerly, he stood with his precious package and instructed Sookie to sit. “I think Mommy has waited long enough.”
They switched kids and Sookie finished feeding Celia while Eric checked that Hunter was still doing OK with this change. After taking a moment to enjoy Sookie’s feelings of joy while she fed Celia he assessed Hunter. He was proud of his boy – Hunter was very excited to have a little sister and anxious to get to know her. With a giggle, he added that watching Daddy change Celia’s diaper was pretty funny. “Your hands are so big and she’s so tiny – it looked funny Daddy.”
“At least her outfit didn’t have buttons.”
“Yeah, but she got poop on her sock.” He giggled again. “She’s messy.”
“I’m sure it’s not the last time something like that will happen.” Thinking of Celia messes reminded him that he and Sookie weren’t yet aware of her diet. Ludwig had not told Bobby to buy any baby food or a high chair, but he didn’t know if Celia wasn’t eating or if Ludwig was handling the food. “Do we know if she’s started on solid foods?” He addressed the room in general; unsure of which person would know.
“I gave Dr. Ludwig a listing of her feeding routine and have a copy for you both as well. She’s not on solid foods yet Eric. The hospital in Baton Rouge was just about to make that transition.”
Sookie smiled. “So we get that as a first Sweetie.”
He turned to Hunter. “If you think she’s messy already, wait until you see spoon feeding.”
“How would you know?”
With a smile on his face, he told his son. “I’ve been watching parent training videos. Started when I first thought about adopting Celia. Most of them I watched while sitting on my throne at Fangtasia.”
“Now that’s funny.” Charles and Maxine were laughing at Eric’s comments. Sookie looked over at the couple, their laughter drawing her attention, and she noticed they were holding hands. Maybe they would have a Papaw soon. She knew Charles and his first wife had a son but he’d been killed while serving in the Navy; the man would probably welcome the family.
She was suddenly sad at the realization that she and Eric were moving away; so sad that Eric moved immediately to squat at her level, Hunter still in his arms. “Min Röðull, what’s happened, what’s wrong?”
“We’ll discuss it later.” He didn’t like the answer and started to push but one look from Sookie and he knew that pushing wouldn’t go so well right now. Sookie moved Celia to her shoulder to burp her and stood at the same time so she could introduce her to everyone in the room.
Her cherub blessed them all with a very loud burp that had Hunter squealing in delight. “Daddy, did you hear THAT?”
“Hunter, everybody heard that; she’s messy and loud.” He joined Sookie as she handed Celia to Maxine. Eric made the introductions. “Celia, this is your Gramma.”
Hunter interjected. “Goofy Gramma.”
“I stand corrected, this is your Goofy Gramma.”
“Hi baby girl. You are one lucky baby being with your new parents and brother.”
“And Gramma and Mima.” Eric added.
“Eric, you don’t need to do that.” Genny blushed.
“I think it’s perfect. We wouldn’t be here without your involvement.”
“Well this old woman never thought . . . I never dreamed after my son died,” She caught her breath before continuing. “I never hoped to be a Mima. Thank you Eric, Sookie.”
“Our pleasure.” First he gave a sweet smile then it changed to a smirk. “It comes with diaper duty.”
“A small price to pay.” Eric laughed that she had remembered and quoted him from their little bargain before. Genny moved and took Hunter’s hand. “Will you call me Mima too?”
“You know, your father thanked me for my involvement, but do you see all that your letter started Hunter?” Her arms were wide as she gestured around the room. “Did you ever imagine this when you wrote that letter?”
“No Ma’am, I mean Mima. I just wanted Mommy to go on a date.”
The group visited for a short while before Charles drove Maxine home; Genny stayed after Eric ensured he would get her a limo later. He could see she was torn about leaving since Celia might still be nervous around the strange people. Genny visibly relaxed when Eric made the offer.
Ludwig still planned to give Johanna her first treatment of vampire blood but before that, she wanted to check out Celia. “We’ll just use Hunter’s bed – is that OK Hunter?”
“Yes Ma’am.” He turned to Eric. “Daddy, can you carry me in to watch TV in the common room while you guys do this?” Hunter liked the comfort of the common room Ludwig had. There were two other Weres being treated that also frequented the room and they engaged Hunter in conversation. He also just liked having someplace different to go.
“Hunter, you don’t have your monitors in there.”
“I’ll take him over and stay.” Genny offered. “If I need you, I’ll call, you’re right across the hall.”
“Thanks Mima!” Hunter brightened. “Come on; let’s go see if Bob and Andy are in there.”
Ludwig turned her attention back onto Celia’s exam. “Sookie, please undress her to a diaper.” Sookie complied and stood off the side with Eric while Ludwig checked Celia out. After the usual medical checks for heartbeat and such, the doctor put Celia on her tummy; then on her back and made notes of her behavior. A toy from the play area was placed just out of Celia’s reach and though the baby made a good effort, it was clearly beyond her reach or ability to push her body to it. Ludwig asked Sookie to take Celia’s hands and help her sit up. At five months old, she should be able to balance both her head and body but Celia was only able to maintain control of her head. Ludwig was explaining this information as she went. When she noticed that Eric seemed worried she stopped to clarify. “Eric, I’m pleased that with her limited socialization and heart condition that she’s developed to a four month old level. I was expecting something more like two or three months. The nurses and her foster brother Kevin really helped keep her on track.”
Sookie teared up. “OH! I’ve been so absorbed with Celia I didn’t think about poor Kevin.”
“He’s fine min Röðull. Genny arranged for a family from her church to take him in their home – it’s close to the end for him. Mustapha has arranged for all his needs like with did with Marjorie.”
“Thank you Eric. You think of everything and everyone.”
Ludwig smiled at her friends for a moment then returned to her assessment. “Celia will be fine. She can make up these weeks quickly.”
“Just tell us what we need to do so she can progress.”
“I’ll work with both of you while you’re here. Stop worrying Daddy.” With a final note to her chart she turned to Sookie. “You can get her dressed now, unless you’re doing a bath of course. Everything is good, and as I said, even better than I had thought in some ways. Tomorrow Maria and I will begin some additional testing for her heart condition.” She moved towards Johanna and her parents. “OK Johanna, time to work on you. I’ll be right back with some vampire blood. Eric?”
As promised, Eric led Ludwig to the vampire level and gave Liam another opportunity to reduce his sentence. Eric would take small amounts of blood over the course of a week and Liam would lose a month off his sentence. The man readily agreed, especially when Eric sweetened the deal with a bag of blood right now and one on the last night he donated. Originally, Eric had planned to heal Johanna himself, but soon Hunter and Celia would have his blood in addition to Sookie, Pam and Karin. Since he planned to monitor his human children very closely as they healed, he had to cut back where he could. If Liam or the others in captivity had refused, he would have stepped up, of course.
Doc Maria arrived to assist Ludwig with the first blood healing and Hoyt and Jessica carried their baby down the hall for the treatment. That left Eric and Sookie alone with Celia for the first time. When Eric returned to the room Sookie was already resting on her side with Celia next to her, bundled just in a blanket. Before he joined them, he just watched as Sookie stared at Celia and used her hand as a toy that Celia was grabbing for. He got that all too familiar chest pain at the scene and just reveled in the feeling before he moved to rest on the other side of the bed so their baby was in between them. “What should we do now that we have a short time alone with her?”
Sookie looked up and bit her lip. “You’ll laugh and I could have saved myself from that, but I wanted to wait for you.”
“I’ll try my hardest not to laugh.”
“Well . . . I want to count her fingers and toes, look for every little wrinkle and dimple, inventory any freckles or birthmarks . . . that sort of thing.”
“That’s why you turned up the heat.” She nodded. “I’m not laughing. I think that sounds perfect.” He leaned over to give Sookie a kiss and got Celia’s forehead as he moved back. She slapped him in the face while he was still within reach and they both laughed. “And so it starts baby girl. You’re going to be beating on your Daddy forever; twisting me around your little finger, batting your eyelashes and doing whatever you need to get your way. You know what? I’ll probably give in every time.” To start on their baby features cataloging, he removed her blanket and her feet went up in the air. “But first, we get to see just how perfect you are Celia Northman. We’ll start with the toes.”
“Daddy, Daddy, Daddy.” Sookie shook her head. “When they’re this cute, they’re called piggies.”
He moved his face to take her foot and blow a raspberry on the bottom causing a full blown belly laugh out of Celia. ”Seems she doesn’t care what I call them but I’ll defer to your Mommy expertise.”
And that was the start of their study of Celia. They giggled and cooed at their baby for a while. Eric especially liked when she imitated flying while on her tummy: Both arms out and legs trying to kick but she was going nowhere fast. While she was still on her tummy, Eric touched the back of her head. “Why is this flat?”
“Babies sleep on their backs, it’s the safest way. It can actually flatten their heads.”
“She’ll sleep on my chest sometimes, so we can take care of that.” Sookie knew he was serious and didn’t comment. For Eric, his desire to give this baby the love she was missing was a physical need for him. They’d probably have consequences on spoiling her sleeping habits, but as Eric made it clear before, he liked sleeping together as a family. Staying in a crib two floors away from him probably wasn’t going to happen anyway.
They flipped her to her back and Eric offered his fingers as distractions for Celia who was getting quite wiggly. Sookie was tracing Celia’s face and down her chest and she stopped when she was above her heart. With a pointed look at Eric she declared. “I know Ludwig will fix this. We’re going to have our baby girl for a long time.”
“She will min Röðull, she will.” He leaned over and kissed the spot on Celia’s chest over her heart and Sookie repeated the action and when she looked up at Eric, he needed to wipe a tear away from her cheek. He understood what she was feeling, he felt it too and proclaimed as much. “I must admit that though I was sure I would feel happiness when we first met Celia, I never expected this feeling of already being in love with her. How is it possible that she literally walked in the door maybe two hours ago and I would already kill for her?”
“It’s called being a parent and like I discovered with Hunter, you don’t have to be the biological parent to have that feeling.”
“No you don’t.” He leaned over and spoke to Celia. “Isn’t that right baby girl? Daddy is your Daddy plain and simple just like Mommy is your Mommy.”
Sookie half laughed and half sobbed. “You’re a sap and I love you.”
“I love you more.” He leaned over and kissed her before returning his attention to his baby.
Across the hall Genny was sneaking a peak at her friends from the doorway to the common room. Hunter was engaged in a conversation with his new friends, Bob and Andy, both recuperating from some kind of fight. Genny was pretty sure there was a lot more to this hospital than you could easily see but she kept her mouth shut and her thoughts to herself. If she needed to know something, Eric would tell her. She continued her Mima spying (she laughed to herself thinking she was calling it Mima spying so she wouldn’t feel so guilty about it – but honestly she couldn’t resist). Eric and Sookie had both just kissed Celia’s chest and it made her own heart hurt for a moment. She rightly deduced they were talking about healing Celia and she sent up a silent prayer that Ludwig was successful – with all these children. When she looked again, Eric was leaning over Celia, obviously talking to her and whatever he said had Sookie give out a sob while the baby just cooed and waved her arms around. This family was meant to be and she was proud of her role. Back in October when she first met Eric, she knew he was something special as was the letter, but this was beyond anything she could have imagined. Hunter called to her so she returned her attention to the boy to rejoin him. Turning to sneak one last glance to the scene across the way; she saw Sookie had moved to review the folder with Celia’s information. She laughed, Eric may have been listening to Sookie, but his eyes were on his baby.
“Eric, I was thinking we have an hour before Hunter’s bedtime but we might want to start adjusting him to be up later? You know, do that with both kids so when we are finally home, we’re up more with you?”
“I’d like that.”
“Ok, so according to Celia’s information, she normally has a bottle and goes to bed at 8, but with her weight, she’s still being fed twice through the night. So it’s almost 8 now, let’s see if we can get her to stay up by giving her the bath Ludwig mentioned.”
“She also took a nap on the drive, so she’s probably off anyway. I agree, let’s give her a bath.” He smiled, really liking the idea. “We should check on Hunter first.”
They walked with Celia across the hall and asked Hunter if he wanted to join them. “Nah, Bob and Andy are telling me stories about their time in Afghanistan. You can take pictures while Mommy washes her.”
“Really Daddy, I don’t need to watch her first bath. I’m good.” Eric looked at Sookie with a question on his face and she nodded. She checked; Hunter really would rather stay with the Weres than help give a baby a bath.
He chuckled at his son. “Ok then.”
With Hunter occupied, Eric and Sookie moved to the bath with Celia. Eric was ready to remove her diaper right away and Sookie stopped him. “We need to get everything in place first. Give me a minute Daddy.”
“Ok baby girl, Mommy needs a minute, what should we do while she gets everything ready?” He reached for a brightly colored giraffe and held it above Celia’s face. After smiling she reached up for the giraffe and he was pleased when she grabbed and then put a rubber foot in her mouth. “She likes this!”
“Yes dear she does.” Sookie had been kneeling on the floor filling the baby tub that had been placed in the larger tub. She laughed when Bobby brought this tub in the other day: It was a ‘luxury model’ in pink complete with whirlpool and bubbling spa, hand held shower head – baby sized, and double wall construction to maintain the temperature. Eric swore he didn’t specify the model but he was quite happy with Bobby’s find all the same. “Ok Daddy, I’m ready for her over here.”
Eric removed Celia’s diaper, kneeled next to Sookie and put Celia in the tub – the splashing started immediately. They both laughed at her. “You’re just as bad as your brother baby girl.”
Hunter heard the splashing and laughter and had Genny carry him in to investigate (seems he couldn’t resist the noises). His Daddy and Mommy were already covered with water splashes. “No Daddy, she’s worse.”
“I agree. I think your first analysis was correct – Celia is messy.”
“Does Daddy want to help with getting his messy baby clean?”
“Go on Daddy. You thought she was squirmy before but now she’s slippery AND squirmy, this is gonna be good.”
“You think you’re funny.”
“I know I am.”
Eric moved into position and turned to Sookie. “OK Mommy, show me what to do.”
A short while later, Celia was clean so Eric emptied the baby tub and started filling the bigger tub for Hunter. “I thought I was staying up later?” He whined.
“You are. I’m just finishing up bath time.”
“Of course. I want you up later as much as you want it.” Truth was, he was thrilled with Sookie’s suggestion. He’d been wanting to bring it up, but decided to wait until after they were done with hospitals. Knowing she was on the same page with the kids shouldn’t have been a surprise.
With everybody bathed, Eric left the bathroom and helped Hunter into pajamas. “Can you take her when you’re done Sweetie? I want to check on Johanna, I’m surprised they aren’t back yet.”
“Of course. Maybe we’ll all read a book together before her last bottle.”
Sookie returned from checking on Johanna and had to hold back more tears: Eric was in the rocking chair, Hunter on one leg and leaning back into his Daddy and Celia was on his other leg, high up on the thigh with Eric holding her around the waist. Luckily with his long arms, he was able to wrap one around Hunter and still hold the board book between the kids. To help, Hunter was turning the pages. The book, Guess How Much I Love You, was too young for Hunter, but he didn’t seem to care. From his thoughts Sookie knew her boy was perfectly happy right now with a new little sister and his Daddy. She could see and feel that Eric was quite content, something she noticed happened when he was with his son – especially at bedtime. He’d confessed to her that the nighttime routine brought him a feeling of peace unlike anything else in his life. It looked like the addition of Celia only compounded the effect. Genny was busy snapping pictures so she only needed to move to the bed and enjoy. The page they were on had Big Nutbrown Hare swinging Little Nutbrown Hare over his head; she hadn’t missed much, maybe half. Celia was starting to shove her hand in her mouth and finally settled on her thumb. Genny leaned over to Sookie and explained that meant she was getting sleepy. “You really spent time with her didn’t you?”
“Every day from right after breakfast until they kicked me out for the night. I wanted her to know someone when she came here.”
“Well thank you. You’ve really gone above and beyond for Hunter’s wish.”
“This hasn’t been about just the wish for a long time.” Sookie squeezed her hand and listened to the end of the book.
They heard Eric reading the last words, saying that he loved THEM BOTH to the moon and back. As if she knew it was over, Celia squealed out her reply and her arms started waving around. “Well Sweetie, I think we’ve kept her up as long as we can. Are you giving her the goodnight bottle?”
“I was thinking you should since I’ll take the overnight feedings. Actually, I need to prep for that. Genny, can you take Celia so Sookie can show me how to heat up the bottles?”
“Sure. I’ll give her a final diaper change.” Jessica and Hoyt arrived and they put Johanna to bed while Genny finished up the diaper change. Sookie was spending the night as was Eric so Hoyt and Jess said a quiet goodbye and headed out.
“Genny, she needs to wear the onesie with the turtle on it for nighttime.”
Eric protested. “Sookie, I’ll be here.”
“I know Eric, but it’s better if she get’s accustomed to the turtle.”
Genny was clearly perplexed. “What is this turtle?”
“Oh, it’s a replacement for all the wires and monitors she had in Baton Rouge. Bobby did some research and found this alternative. It’s called a MIMO, and while Ludwig thinks the company preys on fearful parents, in this case it helps us monitor Celia closely without having her connected to all the wires. We looked into it for Hunter when he moved here, but the device isn’t made to handle his size.” She turned to Eric. “I know you’re not leaving, but until she’s healed she’ll need to be monitored if an adult is not right with her and that’s via the MIMO. I just want her to get used to it.”
“Makes sense min Röðull.”
Celia was dressed quickly and handed to Sookie with a goodnight kiss from Mima. Sporting a big smile, Sookie settled in and rocked her baby while she drank. As she’d done with Hunter when he was an infant, she sang a lullaby; tonight it was Stay Awake from Mary Poppins. Eric was mesmerized while he sat on the bed with Hunter; he’d never seen Sookie more beautiful than right at that moment. The love she already felt for this baby was evident through the bond and on her expression and he swore it wasn’t one-sided: Celia was staring at Sookie and reaching for her face; there was no discomfort on Celia’s part with the new people in her life. With the rocking and warm formula, she was out before the bottle was finished and Genny assured her that happened every night. Eric lifted Hunter and moved to the crib with Sookie. Lovingly, he kissed his new baby on the forehead then wished her a quiet goodnight. Hunter and Sookie mimicked his actions and Celia was placed carefully into the crib.
Genny had to hold back her tears and it was evident Sookie was crying while she and Eric watched their new baby sleep. To offer comfort, Hunter shifted a bit in Eric’s arms to pat his Mommy’s back. Sookie’s voice was quiet but Genny still heard her. “Thank you for finding her Eric. I truly believe she was meant to be ours.”
“She was min angel, she most certainly was.”
Genny took one last photo of the night and in her head she named it: Love at First Sight. Then Genny heard Hunter whisper. “Ummm . . . Mommy, how long are we gonna stand here and watch Celia sleep?”
Summer Infant Lil Luxuries Tub – Pink
Bright Starts Snuggle & Teether – Giraffe
Guess How Much I Love You by Sam McBratney (Author), Anita Jeram (Illustrator)