Chapter 12: Lightning Crashes
The spring bazaar is coming up at church, so while I’m watching a rerun of 48 Hours on ID, I’m also crocheting doilies in various shades of white. Lee is stretched out on the couch, watching with me. Just sitting in the same room watching TV together makes me happy.
Bill never answered my phone calls, but I’m certain I know where he is. For that reason I didn’t contact Sookie. No calls, no texts or anything. Even with my second, secret phone it’s better if we don’t make contact. I don’t know everything there is to know about law enforcement but I’ve seen enough TV to know what the most basic mistakes people make are.
“Think the wife did it?” I ask Lee when the show goes to commercial. A woman tried to pass off her husband’s murder as a home invasion gone wrong, but three weeks later her late husband’s best friend moved in.
“I think she was in cahoots with the friend,” he says. “I think she let him in to do the shooting.”
“Probably. I don’t buy that malarkey about leaving the sliding door open with a pair of toddlers in the house that could have walked out and fallen in the pool.” I didn’t even like having the kiddie pool full or leaving regular doors open overnight when I had little ones running around.
“That could’ve been bad parenting,” he shrugs. “Not everyone is as overprotective as you.”
“Yeah? Well you’re alive, so you’re welcome, smarty,” I chuckle.
“I didn’t say it was a bad thing,” he smiles at me. “It’s a lot better than some of the parents of the kids I go to school with. Amanda, the girl you caught me with, hasn’t seen her mom in almost a week.”
“That’s a damn shame. I know not everyone is as blessed as I’ve been to be able to stay home with my children, but even if I’d had to work there’s no way a week would go by before I saw any of you,” I say. “No wonder you want to take your mommy to boot camp.”
“You’ll stick up for me if the drill sergeant is too mean,” he chuckles.
“Or I’ll agree with him and tell him you don’t make your bed,” I snort.
“But you’ll be there to comfort me at the end of a hard day.”
“That’s true. I would make you s’mores and rub your head,” I agree.
He’s my baby. As such, he’s always gotten a little extra spoiling compared to Sarah and Tommy.
“That’s ’cause you’re a good mom,” he grins.
“I try.” I set aside my crocheting and get up to go to the bathroom. Lee pauses the TV so I won’t miss the conclusion of the show. Fifty-eight minutes of buildup for two minutes of resolution.
I hear the house phone ring while I’m in the bathroom. It’s after ten so I’m not sure who’s calling. It could be Sarah or Tommy. My phone is usually off after nine, so if they want to check in before bed they have to call the house. I hear Lee answer the phone and then I flush the toilet. While I’m washing my hands I hear my son yell for me with panic in his voice.
I shut off the water and take the towel with me to dry my hands. “What is it, Lee?” I ask as I approach him.
“Dad,” he answers. His eyes are beginning to well with tears.
“What about him?” My brows furrow. It’s not usual for my son to cry.
“That was the hospital in Jackson… he’s…”
“He’s what?!” I ask excitedly and take the phone from Lee. It’s still connected to the hospital. “Hello? This is Caroline Compton. Who is this?” I ask while Lee falls on the couch.
“Mrs. Compton, this is Crystal out here at University of Mississippi Medical Center. Is your husband William T. Compton?”
My heart leaps into my throat. I plotted for this moment. I planned and schemed for my husband’s death. The shaking in my voice is genuine when I answer, “Yes, that’s my husband. What’s wrong?”
“Ma’am, he was brought into our emergency room in cardiac arrest thirty minutes ago. As of right now he’s in critical condition but doctors are working to stabilize him,” Crystal, some unit secretary, tells me.
I almost drop the phone. Not because she said my husband may be dying, but because he’s not dead. The good news is if he doesn’t die, it’s not as though he was poisoned. Assuming Sookie listened and didn’t crush the pill or try to sneak it into his food; Bill can’t say he was poisoned or drugged.
“I’m on my way. My husband has a DNR,” I tell her. Lee’s eyes go wide when I say that. We’ve never talked about last wishes with the kids. Bill and I always assumed one of us would be making the judgment calls, but Bill has never wanted to live on machines. He’s been vocal about that.
“Bring the paperwork with you if you can. We’ll need copies for his file,” Crystal says.
I get off the phone and head for the safe under the stairs. Lee follows behind me.
“Mom, shouldn’t we call Tommy and Sarah? Since when does Dad have a DNR? Is he going to… He’s going to make it, right? He’s too young to…” My poor boy can’t even say it. I stop and pull him into a tight hug.
“I don’t know what’s going to happen, sweetheart. I’m going to get the paperwork and we can call Sarah and Tommy from the car, okay?” I’m calm, but then I’m not one to lose my head in a crisis situation. Tommy dislocated his elbow when he was nine after he fell out of the tree he was climbing. I didn’t scream, get flustered or panic. I just got his arm as settled as I could and took him to the emergency room.
I get the papers I need and my son follows me out to my car. While I drive he calls his siblings to tell them the news. I’m barely on the highway when a squad car lights up behind me. For the second time in less than an hour my heart seizes. I pull onto the shoulder and the squad car stops behind me. I wasn’t speeding and I used my signals…
Andy strolls up to the window looking distraught.
“Caroline, I just got a call from the chief of police over in Jackson,” Andy says.
“We’re on our way–”
“He’s gone, Caroline,” Andy says gruffly and clears his throat.
“He’s what?” Lee asks in a panicked voice.
“No, Andy, he can’t be,” I reply. Tears sting my eyes but they’re for the boy whose heart is breaking beside me.
“I’m sorry, Caroline,” Andy says.
I feel numb but I turn to hug my son. His immediate pain is clawing at me.
“No, no, no,” he chants as his tears soak through my shirt.
In this moment my son is six again and devastated that my father died. He was very close with my dad and it was the first time death really registered for him. Seeing that kind of sadness in my child’s eyes caused a scar on my heart that is never going to fade. I feel terrible that he’s in so much pain right now because of me and my actions. Bill’s faults and flaws don’t matter right now.
“I’m sorry, baby,” I whisper and rock him slowly. I can hear my daughter sobbing on the other end of the line.
Andy takes Lee’s phone to talk to Sarah and explain what happened and that’s when Lee hears it.
“An ambulance was summoned to the Marriott in Jackson by a woman named Ginger, who was there as his guest, and he was in full arrest when EMTs arrived on the scene,” Andy says.
Who the fuck is Ginger?
Please tell me that Sookie didn’t use an alias…
“Ginger?! Who the fuck is Ginger?!” I hear my daughter screech on her end of the line. I’d like to know who she is too, but it’s obvious my son has already figured out who she is.
“Motherfucker,” Lee growls as he sits back, his hurt quickly turning to anger.
“Now hold on a minute, we don’t know who she is or what her relationship is–” Andy’s cut off by his nephew’s glare. It’s nice, I suppose, of Andy to want to keep everyone from jumping to conclusions but it’s not like this Ginger person is Bill’s assistant. If she was in his hotel room late at night when he was supposed to be having a dinner meeting with Truman Burrell, I can only think of one reason for her to be there. I’m sure my son has reached the same conclusion.
“Andy, give me the phone please,” I sniffle and hold my hand out so I can talk to Sarah. He hands over the phone and I press it to my ear. “Hi, sweetheart,” I say softly. “I can send the plane to get you. You’ll be here in less than two hours.”
“Okay,” she sniffs.
“I’m so sorry baby. I’ll arrange to have someone pick you up from Shreveport, okay? I love you,” I tell her. Telling Tommy that his father is gone is going to be the toughest part. He’s going to lash out in anger more than Sarah or Lee will, and I won’t be the least bit surprised if my boys end up in a fist fight.
I know my daughter is devastated because she replies, “I love you too, Mommy.” She only calls me ‘Mommy’ when she’s hurt. I think it’s sweet, even if it breaks my heart to hear her say it.
I get off the phone with her and look to Andy.
“Do I need to go to Mississippi or will his body be transported back here?” I ask him.
“We can arrange to have it flown back. Since it was a heart attack there’s no need for an autopsy, unless you want one,” he says.
“No,” I sniffle and wipe my eyes. “No, I don’t see any reason for that. I’ll call Mike Spencer when I get back to the house and make sure they can meet the plane. I have to arrange for someone to go down to Baton Rouge to get Sarah and I have to call Tommy…”
“I’ll call Tommy,” Lee grumbles.
“Thank you, sweetheart,” I whisper and pat his leg. I know this will probably get ugly.
“Go on home, Caroline. I’ll call Mike for you and make the arrangements to have Bill brought back here,” he says.
“Okay,” I nod. “Thank you, Andy. I’m sorry…” Bill was his cousin. I wouldn’t say they were super, super close but they were family and I know there was love between them. Not that they ever really let it show because they’re men.
“It’s alright,” Andy sighs. “Go take care of your babies.”
I plan to. Andy follows me to the next exit, where we both get off the highway only to get on again going to the opposite direction. Lee calls his brother, as promised, and from the moment Tommy answers the phone it’s obvious he’s in a hostile mood. I reach for Lee’s hand while he tells his big brother that their father is gone and I hear my middle child scream in denial and then in rage.
“It’s all her fault!” Tommy yells on his end of the line. I know instinctually that I’m the ‘her’ he’s referring to. He’s always blamed me for his father’s infidelity and his heart problems and everything else that has ever gone wrong for Bill. I don’t know what I’ve done to cause such animosity from my son, but he blames me anyway. Maybe it’s just easier than putting the responsibility where it belongs.
Lee ends up hanging up on his brother. “I don’t want to hear his hateful shit right now,” he says quietly.
“It’s okay, sweetheart. He’ll cool off,” I remind him. Tommy always does. He’s got a short fuse and a quick temper, so he’s pretty much a walking powder keg just waiting to go off at all times. He explodes and then he’ll take some time to chill out and think more rationally. By the time he gets here from school, he’ll feel better.
Andy follows us until we get off the highway and then we go in different directions. I assume he’s going back to the office to make his official phone calls to Mike Spencer, the town coroner/undertaker. I take us back to the house and immediately get on the phone to see about sending a plane down to Baton Rouge to get Sarah. As soon as the arrangement is set I call her with the flight information. I offer to get her from the airport, but Lee insists he can do it.
He’s supposed to be grounded but right now that’s all out the window. I can feel the chaos closing in around me and yet, I’m not panicking.
For the moment, the plan worked. Bill had a heart attack. There won’t be an autopsy. As far as I can tell, there is nothing linking me or Sookie to his death.
I think… I think I just got away with murder.
The whole time I’m at the hospital all I can think about is what’s happening to Bill. I don’t know if the pill worked or if Ginger left before anything happened or if nothing happened at all.
When I get checked out Eric is by my side. He hasn’t asked where I was. I think he knows, but it’s scared to ask. Ultimately, it is just stress. The baby is fine, but I need to relax. I’ll relax once I know… anything.
My questions are answered when Eric and I are walking out of the hospital. My phone finally gets service again and I get one message after another from Ginger. Voice mails and text messages. Bill had a heart attack, collapsing right on top of her.
As much as I don’t want to, I have to call her back. Eric tells me to leave the shitbox at the hospital and he’ll take me home. I’m just sliding into the passenger seat when I hit send to call her back.
“Sookie? Thank fucking God! Where the fuck did you go? It was so horrible! Did you get my messages?!” Ginger is clearly in panic mode.
“I ended up at the ER. I didn’t want to interrupt so I left when my stomach cramps got worse. I got the messages. What the hell happened?” I ask. “What do you mean he had a heart attack? He was healthy as a horse.”
“I don’t know,” Ginger sniffles. “One minute he was… he was fucking me in the ass and the next he was just on top of me.” It might be funny if it wasn’t tragic in some sort of way. “I tried to wake him up but he wouldn’t move. He still had a pulse but his eyes wouldn’t open. I don’t know if he was healthy as a horse but he weighed as much as one. It took forever to get out from under him and then I had to wait for an ambulance to show up and I couldn’t remember how to do CPR right…”
“Oh my God, sweetie. I’m so, so sorry…” I can actually feel tears stinging my eyes. I don’t think they’re for Bill, but for poor Ginger. She shouldn’t have had to go through that… “I’m sorry I left. Has anyone contacted his family? Do you need me to come over to see you?” I glance at Eric and he shakes his head no.
“Sookie, he’s dead,” Ginger says.
“He’s what?!” I screech. “They didn’t… they didn’t help him?”
“Of course they helped him but it was too late,” she says. “I went to the hospital with him because I didn’t know what else to do and it seemed cruel to not go. Some police asked me about what happened so you might get a call.”
“Okay,” I sniffle. I helped take this man away from his family and traumatize poor Ginger all for a few thousand… several thousands of dollars. I’m a horrible person. “Are you okay?”
“No,” she says like I should know better. “A man died in me, Sookie. I’m not okay!”
I feel like I’m going to be sick.
“Is there–” I’m cut off by Eric’s hand over my mouth. He doesn’t want me to get anymore involved than I already am. When he moves his hand I glare at him and ask her again, “Is there anything I can do for you. I feel horrible. I… I cared for him and then this… I’m just so…” I can’t finish a sentence.
“No, there’s nothing you can do,” she sighs. “I’m going to go drink until I pass out.”
“I wish I could do that too,” I sigh. “Call me if you need anything, okay?”
“Yeah. Is the baby okay?”
“Yeah, it’s fine. With losing the job I’m stressed over money,” I lie. “It’s having an effect on the baby so I’m being told to take it easy until I can de-stress.”
“I’m sorry to hear that. I can talk to Claude if you want…”
“No, it’s okay. I don’t need to be working in a nightclub with a basketball belly. I’m almost three months and you can see how much I’m showing already. I’ll find something. I have some leads,” I tell her.
“Alright. Well, take care, Sookie.”
“You too, Ginger.” With that I hang up. “He’s gone,” I whisper, turning to face the window.
“How did he go?” Eric rests a hand on my thigh.
“Fucking Ginger. I couldn’t… he called me and thankfully he brought up the threesome I offered a while back. I called Ginger and I gave him the pill before she showed up. I never even took my dress off.”
“Was it a heart attack?”
“Yeah,” I reply. I have a feeling I’m going to be numb for a while. Not because Bill is dead, but because I feel like the sole reason. I know I’m not the one that planned it. Yes, he pissed me off, but still. I guess I did care about him in my own way. He provided me with a lot of things I would’ve never had. He spoiled me. Not only with gifts, but with the time he spent with me. When he was being a pig he was unbearable, but he also had some very sweet moments. That all went right out the window when I called him and Caroline answered though. “Part of me feels like he deserved it, especially given some of the things he’s said recently. The other part reminds me that by giving him that pill and allowing him to get excited, I’m a murderer.”
Eric squeezes my hand but he doesn’t offer me any words of wisdom or comfort.
“I didn’t have sex with him,” I tell Eric again. I need to talk to Caroline too.
“Okay,” he says quietly as he turns onto my street.
“Are you going to stay with me?” I ask with tears in my eyes. I can’t stop them from falling. Caroline is fine, I’m sure, but along with making Ginger more unstable I took a life from three innocent people.
“Do you want me to? It’s okay if you want to be alone,” he tells me.
“I don’t know,” I frown. “I honestly don’t know what I’m feeling right now. Maybe stay for a while or until I go to sleep? Unless you want to stay the night with me.”
“You know I’ll stay as long as you want me to.” Eric lifts my hand to kiss it while pulling into my driveway.
“Okay. Right now I need to get out of these clothes,” I sigh. I think more than anything I want to do the worst thing ever and call Caroline.
He parks his car and gets out, walking around to help me out. We walk to my front door hand-in-hand. As soon as we’re inside I reach back to unzip my dress and drop it to the floor, quickly followed by my bra and panties. Eric would normally make a comment or growl, but this time he just picks up my clothes and follows me to my room.
“I’m going to take a shower,” I say as I grab a fresh towel from the linen closet.
“Alright. I’ll be here,” he says.
I nod before I continue on to the bathroom. I turn on the hot water and step inside before it warms up. I’m numb to it anyway. The water is cold for a moment before it transitions into scalding hot. I don’t know what to feel. Right now I’m feeling a little bit of everything. Relief that it’s done, although I know I’m going to have to talk to the cops. I want to make sure Caroline doesn’t hate me, and explain to her why it was Ginger that called the 9-1-1 instead of me. I want to make sure her kids are okay. I’m not even worried about me. I’m worried about my little jellybean, but I’m guessing that will get better after this has died down some.
I try to stop thinking about it long enough to wash my hair and body. When I get out the mirror is all steamed up, but I can tell that my body is bright red from the heat. I dry off, wrapping the towel around me and go into my room to find Eric sitting on my bed.
“Did anyone call?” I ask.
I nod and go to my dresser to find a T-shirt and shorts to wear before going back to the bathroom to get dressed and comb out my hair. I pull it back into a ponytail and head back to my room, crawling onto the bed to snuggle into Eric.
“I don’t want anymore silence,” I whisper. “Tell me about your day?”
“Nothing too fantastic happened,” he says. “I spent most of it doing boring paperwork. I have to take a trip up to Colorado next week. You could come with me if you want a change of scenery.”
“Really?” I say with a small smile. “I’ve never been to Colorado… and you’d want me there?”
“Sure. You’d have plenty of sightseeing stuff to do during the day while I’m working. It’s beautiful up there. Definitely bring your camera,” he says. “You might never want to come home.”
“Do we have to live here?” I don’t think I’d mind leaving Mississippi.
“Well, I kind of have to be here for work,” he reminds me.
“Oh yeah,” I sigh. “I never had a homebase, so most of the time I don’t even think about it… Do you still want me to move in with you? Even after what I did today?”
Eric holds me tighter and kisses my shoulder.
“I love you. Happy, sad, dark, twisted, bouncing off the walls, acting like a big dork or pissing me off, I love you,” he whispers. “I want you with me but if you’re not ready, I can be patient.”
“I think I’m ready,” I sigh as I squeeze him tighter. “I’ve been scared you were going to hate me after I did what I did.”
“I think it’s safe to say you’re stuck with me,” he says.
“Okay,” I smile and shift so I’m lying on his chest. I won’t be able to do this much longer. “On a lighter note, how cool was it to hear the baby’s heart thumping today?”
“It was definitely the highlight of my day,” he says. His fingers trail up and down my back slowly in a soothing way. “I had no idea such a tiny heart could beat so fast.”
“I know,” I say with a content sigh. “It’s crazy loving someone so much when they’re not even formed yet.”
“Yes it is,” he agrees. “What do you think? Boy or girl?”
“My gut says girl.” I don’t know why, I can’t get it out of my head though.
“A girl would be nice,” he says. “Can I spoil her?”
“You can do whatever you want as long as you love her,” I smile. I’ve never had anyone ask my permission for anything. It’s weird. I like it.
“So I can buy her a pet dragon to keep little shitheads from pawing at her?”
“If that’s what your caveman heart desires,” I chuckle. “Keep her safe and love her, that’s all I require. It’s the two things I didn’t get and I intend to make sure our children get plenty of love and the right kind of affection.”
“Children, huh?” Of course he picked up on that.
“Do you plan on keeping your paws off of me after jellybean is born?”
“Nope. I plan on making sure she has noise cancelling headphones so we don’t traumatize her.”
“Then I’m pretty sure we’re going to have more than one,” I wink. “We see how well the birth control worked this time.”
“Next time I’d like it to be on purpose,” he says and kisses my head.
“Me too. I’ll talk to my doctor about a different form of birth control after this one is born.”
“We have time to figure it out.” Eric strokes my hair back. “Are you okay? I mean really?”
“I don’t know yet,” I shrug. “I think it’s going to hit me hard later what I did. It’s hard to justify being so greedy, but at the same time he said some things recently that made me want to rip his throat out.”
“Sometimes you have to measure your choices by your own code and rules and not society’s,” he tells me.
“Yeah… Is it bad that I’m kinda happy it was Ginger that he died on?” I know Eric is happy it wasn’t me. “I think if I’d been there when it happened I wouldn’t be able to live with myself.”
“I’ve seen someone die. I don’t blame you for not wanting to be there.”
“I want to check on Caroline too. I know it’s a bad day to call though. I don’t know if there’s going to be an investigation.”
“A heart attack is natural causes. He probably had a heart condition,” he says. “You might want to give it a few days before you talk to Caroline just in case there is an investigation.”
“I’ll wait for her to call me.” The heart condition makes sense. I don’t know why I didn’t think about it before.
“Are you hungry?” I just realized I haven’t eaten since lunch and it’s well past midnight. Eric should be asleep.
“No, but I can make you something or run out if you want me to,” he offers.
“You should be in bed. I can find something in the kitchen to snack on.”
“I am in bed,” he smiles.
“You know what I mean,” I smile back as I sit up.
“I told you if you need anything, I’m there. You’re growing a human. Nothing else on my calendar trumps that.”
I lift my shirt to poke my belly. “I am, aren’t I?” I smile. “Then come to the kitchen with me and keep me company while I eat everything in it, unless you’re tired.”
“I can keep you company.” Eric scoots over to kiss my bump.
“You’re still going to love me when I’m as big as a whale, right?” I ask as I climb off of the bed.
“I’ll commission a custom made tank for you,” he winks.
“That is love,” I snort as Eric follows me to the kitchen. “Would it be selfish of me to ask if I can be a stay at home mom?” I ask, surprising the hell out of him. I’m going to have the money as long as Caroline comes through, which I still trust that she will.
“Why would I think that’s selfish?” Eric inquires. “What’s the point of the money coming your way if you’re going to go back to work and put the kid in daycare? You can do whatever you want, Sookie. If you want to be at home with the baby, you should do it. Might be good for the soul, you know?”
“Yeah… babies are happy, right?” I haven’t been around too many.
“I hear they eat, sleep and shit a lot,” he chuckles. “But the ladies at work are always swooning and cooing over their babies, so they can’t be that bad.”
“No, and they are cute,” I smile. “Ours will be the cutest of them all, of course.” I grab my loaf of bread and a jar of peanut butter. Eric looks at me like I’ve lost my mind when I put a half-inch thick layer of peanut butter on the wheat bread.
“Got enough peanut butter there, slim?”
“It’s good. I need to go buy more tomorrow,” I shrug. “I’ve been eating it like it’s going out style. I don’t know if that’s a good or bad thing. It’s better than throwing everything up all the time, right?”
“Yes it is. Plus I want a rollie pollie, chubby baby,” he says.
“You’ll be getting that if my food cravings don’t die out,” I chuckle. I have a bite of peanut butter bread in my mouth when I grab an ice cream cone from the freezer and the jar of pickles.
“Wha… What are you doing?” Eric looks nervously at my food selections.
“This is called snacking,” I inform him. “I’m going to finish my peanut butter bread, eat the pickle to cleanse my palate and then finish with the ice cream unless something else catches my eye.” Duh.
“As long as you don’t try putting them all together,” he cringes.
“No,” I shrug and then take a bite of bread before taking a bite of my pickle to see how it tastes. It’s… interesting, but not all that bad. Eric looks like he might puke.
“Jellybean can’t like that.”
“Jellybean isn’t complaining.”
“I don’t do this normally. I barely eat,” I tell him. “So, if I’m a housewife, should I learn to cook?”
“I can teach you some stuff,” he says. “Once you know the basics you’ll be comfortable with recipes. Hell, we could try a peanut butter and pickle tortilla roll up thing.”
“Babe, that’s a great idea!” I grin as I pull my step stool out from between the fridge and the counter so I can get the tortillas from the top of the fridge. I threw them up there after I went shopping and they went too far back.
“You’re crazy, woman,” he chuckles.
“Oh, yeah, I could’ve just asked you to get them,” I smile as I start to slather more peanut butter on a tortilla. “Should I add banana too?”
“And pickle?” He’s definitely a little green at the prospect.
“Fine, no pickle,” I giggle quietly. I put the pickles away, followed by the ice cream since I don’t know when I’m going to eat it. I slice up a banana to spread out and then find my honey to drizzle on top. “Is this better?” I ask as I start to roll it up. I offer him a bite first.
“It’s all yours, toots.”
I shrug and take a bite. Who knew food would cheer me up so much? Eric and I end up sitting in the kitchen for the next twenty minutes. By the time we get to bed it’s pushing one-thirty. I’m exhausted, physically and emotionally. I’m pretty sure I’m knocked out before my head hits the pillow.