It Can’t Be
That Red Shit
“What are your rates?” I rubbed the sleep from my eyes. I’d only answered the door because I thought ‘my date’ had just walked out. If she’d left her car keys, I was more than anxious to make sure she get them back.
The boy shrugged. “Your front yard isn’t that big. How about the back? D’you have jungle gyms and play stuff to dodge with the mower?”
“No. No kid-gear. That would imply that a kid has ever been in the house… Just a patio.”
“These your only flower beds?”
“That’s it…” I pushed the door open for him. “Come on through so you can take a look.”
When he stepped up from the stoop, I noticed how tall he was. Only 15ish… he was well on his way to being as tall as I was, if not taller.
He looked up to the vaulted ceiling of the foyer until it broke at the wall and suddenly became glass in the great room. He breathed ‘damn’ with the same awe I had when the builders finally got it right after 3 tries. “Glass houses…”
“I’m safe. I don’t throw a lot of stones.”
“What is that… Like a… a… the vines… is that honeysuckle?” The border around the room was done in stained glass to look like lattice…
“Impressive. Most people assume its wisteria.”
“Wisteria looks like grapes…” That’s what Sookie always said. “So… I guess you don’t have kids because you couldn’t afford the Windex, huh?”
I laughed, “Something like that.” I pushed open the sliding glass panels to lead him out to the back yard and waited for him to stop gawking and catch up. I was too arrogant to hurry him along. He was admiring my house. My design. My showcase.
He gave me an incredulous look and the arched eyebrow to go with it. “You call this a patio?”
“No, but most people don’t know what…”
“Not bad.” There were pompous housewives in the neighborhood that had them and still called them ‘porches’.
“I even like the furniture. Your wife has great taste.”
“My interior designer has been working with me for long enough to know MY taste. No wife.” I suddenly had the feeling he was either flirting with me or casing out my house to rob later.
“Oh. Sorry… I just assumed because well… I mean…”
“Single guys have a black pleather couch until the wife makes them trade it in?”
“Yeah. You gay or something?”
“No. I’m an architect. I like details.”
He tilted his head like he approved of my answer and stepped into the yard. “Big house though. I was just curious…” He walked out to the middle of the lawn and turned, surveying. The lot was only one acre and it was annoyingly flat. “…Bald barbers, skinny chefs and all that?”
“Exactly. I couldn’t really get away with living in a cookie-cutter home.”
“I bet… $50? I can trim around that board on board fencing, mow the lawn, pull weeds.”
“That’s what I get when I do it at home… but you’re gonna have to take out your own trash.”
“$50 is a lot more than I got as an allowance.” I was lucky to get money to pitch in for gas.
“How much did Captain Caveman give you to take out the garbage?” Old jokes? I wasn’t even 40 yet. Little pischer.
“My parents didn’t pay me. They were sneaky enough to call it pitching in.”
He started laughing. “Did I say $50? I meant $100.”
I had to admire the kid’s sense of humor. I held my hand out and he took it. “$50 it is…” The kid’s hand was the same size as mine. “I’m Eric by the way.”
“I prefer to think that my mother is a loyal AmERICan as opposed to facing the nightmare that she could’ve named me after Enrique Iglesias since she has all of his CDs. How’d you get stuck with it?”
My eyes rolled on their own. “All the other names were taken.”
“Sort of… counting both sides, I have 34 first cousins, but I’m an only child.”
“Three cousins, only child… So will your neighbors be pissed if I start your yard early?” The way he kept changing back and forth between subjects was amusing. Teenagers and their ADD… at least he had some manners.
“It should be fine. I only ever hear from one. He’s a tool, harmless, but still a tool.” Bill Compton and his notions that he needed to be liked by everyone were completely benign, if not amusing. Mr. Status Quo.
“One of those yuppy douche bags?”
“Oh, don’t let Bill fool you. If being homeless made networking easier, he’d be living under a bench at the zoo. The saying ‘an ounce of pretention is worth a pound of bullshit’ confuses him. He looks like a monkey doing long division every time I say it.”
He laughed, “My mom says that crap all the time… it’s usually when I tell her I need money for new clothes… and the other one… my mom says it about her boss so much that I picture a chimp humping a calculator every time I see him.”
“It must be a Southern thing. The first time I heard them was from a girlfriend in college.”
“Hardly. She was white trash and I was a thug who worked construction from the time I could get a work permit.”
He snorted. “You should’ve married her so she could divorce you and take away half of everything.”
“She wasn’t like that. College was her ticket out of the trailer park too…”
“Want me to start now or next week?”
I rolled my eyes at his attention span. “Next week. Bright and early would be better. My neighbor’s daughter is a debutant. Annoying her is the most fun I get from the neighbors.”
“Gotcha… ‘Til then.” He shook my hand again and left through the gate in the privacy fence.
It wasn’t the only conversation I’d had with him. I’d talked to him every time he’d been over. Taking him a bottle of water usually led to a few minutes of polite small talk. But that first conversation held enough clues that I felt like I was watching The Sixth Sense’s reveal scene. The flashes of all the clues Bruce Willis’s character should’ve picked up on. He should’ve known he was dead… I should’ve known, noticed…
Everything, all of the clues added up in such small increments that I didn’t quite feel like a complete idiot. It didn’t help that I was defensively in denial because of Bill’s sideways comments. But I’d be full of as much shit as he was if I tried to claim I’d have put two and two together without his snobbish taunting. I didn’t pay Bill any more attention than I did my desk blotter. He was just there, even on a good day.
I stared at the boy who, as my white trash mother would’ve said ‘coulda been spit outta my mouth’ and I felt a shift…
Not 10 minutes ago I was wallowing in melancholy. I’d let myself get caught in all the questions I’d wanted to ask Sookie for 16 fucking years. Why did she leave? What had I done wrong? Where did she go?
10 minutes ago, I would’ve been a retarded sap if I ran into her… I could’ve forgiven her with a few answers. That’s all I really wanted. Not knowing anything had haunted me ever since…
16 fucking years… He was practically an adult and I was only just finding out about him… Sookie had robbed me of everything.
I took an unsteady step back, feeling like I might be sick. “Crystal, Eric… I think this is a conversation we should have inside.”
Eric started trudging my way, but Crystal shook her head. “No… I think this is a conversation…”
“Crystal, Jason’s going to be involved, but I think this bullshit has gone on more than long enough.” I took another step back to make room for her to get by, but I would’ve snatched her into the house if I needed to. She wasn’t getting away.
She let out a loud sigh and stepped in, stopping just behind me.
When Eric came up the steps, I saw it all. Every fucking similarity that had only been coincidence to me before was screaming at me. “This isn’t what I planned. I just wanted to meet you.”
All I could do was nod. It was all I could let myself do. I was feeling too much at once. I didn’t know whether to scream, cry, break something… “We’ll sort this out.”
“Don’t be too pissed at them alright… They didn’t know I was doing this… I didn’t expect you to hire me.”
Another nod, but before I had the chance to ask him what he did expect or what he would’ve done if I’d just told him to fuck off like my other neighbors would’ve, Crystal got my attention. She’d hit speed dial on her phone.
“You’re calling Jason?”
She nodded with hesitation.
I snatched her cell phone out of her hand as I walked through the foyer to lead the way to the great room. She gasped and hummed her disapproval instead of putting up a real argument.
“Hey there yourself.”
“Shit Eric, you gotta get yourself a cell. I flirt with you more than I do my own wife.” He still sounded like the same Kentucky Fried Goon I’d met 18 years ago when Sookie and I started dating.
“Sounds like a real problem. Mind if I ask you a question?”
“Yeah… You alright? You sound like your sinuses are acting up again. You forget to take your allergy pills this morning?” As a matter of fact I had forgotten them.
“I’m fine. I was wondering how you managed to graduate high school when your memory can be so shitty.”
“I played football, kid. I earned extra credit in the end zone… What crawled up your butt? I know I didn’t forget your birthday. That’s why I got a wife.”
“What crawled up my butt is that for 16 years, I’ve been calling you to look for Sookie and it’s consistently slipped your mind that I have a son.”
The silence coming from his end of the line was all the answer I needed.
“You sack of shit. You let me file missing persons reports and go to every fucking hospital for miles looking for Jane Does for years and you knew all along where she was and that she was fine.” I watched Eric pace around, walking from one room to the next with his arms folded over his chest and eyes on his feet…
“She didn’t want you to find her.”
“You could’ve had the balls to tell me that.”
“You’re right… You know how she is when she sets her mind on something… She wouldn’t even tell me why.”
“Well then that makes two of us.”
“Look… I… wait… Did you like run into Crystal or something?”
“You could say that. She arrived on my front step to retrieve her nephew who just so happens to be my lawn boy.”
“Small world, huh?”
“No its not! You asshole! He wanted to fucking meet his father. Seems like everyone he knows refused to tell him the first fucking thing about me.”
“Look man… I’m sorry… I guess it’s been fourteen years now I’ve been trying to get Sook to contact you. She stopped talking to me for a year over it. I never could get it out of her why she left… I didn’t know if you got rough with her or something so I… Ask Crystal… She’ll tell ya. We been trying to get Sookie to contact you since she told us about the baby.”
“The baby? Not the pregnancy?”
“When she left school she didn’t call us for a long time. We figured y’all were moving and settling in and all. She called us when Eric was born.”
“You didn’t know she was pregnant until he was born?”
“Yeah… said she was thinking about putting him up for adoption but when she saw him she changed her mind.” And never tell me?
“What the fuck?”
“I don’t know. That’s what I’m saying. I’d have told you if… Seriously. You’re a big guy… If you were knocking her around or…” Never. I wouldn’t. Ever.
“Jason… if she was scared of me then why would she NAME HIM AFTER ME!?”
“I don’t know! That’s what I’m saying… She acted like she was hiding from you and then she named him Eric… You’re smart. If you don’t know why she left, then what makes you think I’d figure it out?”
“Don’t breathe a word to her. Do you understand? This is something Eric and I will figure out. We’ll handle it. You fucking owe us that much after lying to us for 16 years.”
“Yeah, no problem.”
Crystal couldn’t leave the house fast enough once her phone was back in her hand. She only asked that we let her know whether to expect Eric to be returned tonight or not. Not. Neither of us had to say it. We’d already decided. Even though it was only noon, we had 15 years worth of talking to do. Talking as a minimum.
He wasted no time once the door was closed behind his aunt. “You were looking for my mom.”
“Of course I was. She disappeared into thin air without a word, a note, nothing. She vanished the day after graduation. I thought she had gone to get breakfast because the only thing missing was her keys and her purse… She didn’t take anything with her. Did she tell you why she left?”
“It wasn’t working out…”
“What? That makes her one hell of a bullshit artist. The last fucking thing she said to me before we fell asleep was that she’d always love me. We were about to move here to… fuck!”
“I meant earlier… Your computer… You should’ve been looking for Belle. That’s what she goes by now. Only Jason and Crystal call her Sookie anymore… You’re still looking for her.”
I stopped pacing and looked at him. “Yes, of course I was. We lived just off campus in a shitty part of town. Anything could’ve happened to her…”
“I think she still loves you.”
I snorted. I couldn’t help it. “She’s got a fucked up way of showing it. She disappeared…”
“Monday, May 8th, 1994 between 3 and 8am.”
“I was born on December 10th.”
“That’s good to know. If we don’t tell her that we met, there’s half a chance I can celebrate a birthday with you.”
He snorted, “I know right… but that’s not was I was getting at… She’s got locked lips over the whole thing. I know I was a couple weeks early… So I happened around St. Patrick’s Day.”
I shrugged. I knew jack shit about pregnancy since I’d never been along for the fucking ride. “Wonderful. She probably knew and left anyway.”
“You didn’t know?”
“No. I had no idea. What do you know about me that I didn’t tell you?”
“Nothing? Not a single thing?”
“Well, since mom’s kind of a midget, I figured you were tall.”
“How did you find me?”
“Uncle Jason is kind of retarded. Wedding pictures.”
“So when you asked about your father what did she say?”
“I stopped asking a few years ago. I thought you were dead for a long time because she’d cry whenever I brought it up. She’d always take me on a road trip for Father’s Day so I wouldn’t think about it.” Road trips…
“Where did she take you?”
“This year I was here… Last year we drove out to Atlanta. We went to a Braves game and to some museum…”
“The Morse Museum of Modern Art?”
“Yeah. You know it?”
“Inside and out… I designed it.”
“No way. Really?”
I nodded. “I did it in college… What’s your middle name?” It bothered me, infuriated me to no end that I knew nothing about my own son. Not that I had no idea how to change his diaper… That he was in HIGH SCHOOL and I only knew that he looked like me, had allergies like me and some of my ticks… We were both pacing again.
“Gehry.” That bitch.
“Eric Gehry Stackhouse… What would you rather do? Call her or go see her?”
“You’re really pissed.”
“On a lot of levels. For a lot of reasons… not because of anything you’ve done though.”
“I… I think I’d rather do it in person.”
“Do you have a stepfather that might be unhappy about…?”
“No. Mom’s never even been on a date that I know of.”
“Do you want to go back to Jason’s to get cleaned up?”
“No. I can shower at home… You sure you want to drive though. It’s 3 hours away.”
I was already on my way to grab my keychain. “Eric, your mother is the one who hates road trips.”