It Can’t Be
In The Blood
When I got back to the booth, Sookie wasn’t there.
Eric was plowing through the platter of seafood nachos (no fish) like he hadn’t eaten a tray of microwave brownies just before Sookie arrived. “What’d she say?”
“That I’m worried about Sookie trying to change too much at once for nothing for the most part. Where is she?”
“Bathroom. Just the bathroom though. She wasn’t upset or anything. We counted… You took 14 laps around the building.”
“Small building. How long has she been gone?”
“Just a few minutes.”
“I’m going to check on her just in case. If the waitress comes back, ask for another order of those so we get to try them.”
He was shrugging (and maybe even looking for a shovel) when I left him again.
I whistled as I stuck my head into the bathroom door. “Sookie, take your time. The boy ate our food already. The waitress is bringing more.” I could hear her giggling from whatever stall she was using.
She didn’t have a chance to respond before a woman using the sink shrieked that I was in ‘the ladies’…
Uh-oh. I’d breached the inner sanctum of Joe’s Crab Shack. I figured since she was already pissed, I’d go all the way in. “Thanks for telling me. I might’ve confused the sinks for a urinal… Tell me, what is so magically secretive about public restrooms? Is it like being Kosher and keeping groceries separated? I frequently enjoy gender-specific restroom interloping. After a lot of research, I can tell you, we all use them for the same thing…”
She seemed to be hoping that I’d shut up and leave because of the pissy glare she was giving me, but finally gave up to storm out, rolling her eyes.
Sookie finally stepped out of her stall. No signs that she was upset, in fact, she looked like she was fighting a laugh. “Are you really still doing that or was that for my benefit?”
I argued, “I’ve yet to get a levelheaded answer…”
She started to smirk. “Just make room for two bathrooms in the plans and quit being a cry baby.”
“It’s not always in the best interest of aesthetics…” Extra doors and unreasonable plumbing requirements… Houses weren’t expected to have urinals… lighting wasn’t any different…
“What do you have at your offices?”
“Unisex singles. There are 30 plus employees, about half and half, sharing 4 bathrooms per floor. The 3rd floor is done the same way for when we need to expand. No one has ever complained…”
“Would they complain to you? You are the ‘Golden Child of commercial architecture’…” She really had been watching me. That review was at least 8 years old.
I rolled my eyes while she washed her hands. “That article just can’t be unread… I fucking hate that Golden Child thing.”
She smiled at me in the mirror. “I prefer the ‘New Bard of Steel and Glass’.”
“What made you do the development?”
“The financing to open my own firm and the site for my house.”
“Having your name on a project with the Britlingens didn’t hurt either, did it?”
“Not in the least.”
“Did you enjoy your talk with Octavia?”
“It wasn’t the worst conversation I’ve ever had. I’m sorry…”
“It’s ok… I’m worried about things too. I can understand why you’re concerned.”
“I don’t want you to think I don’t trust you though.”
“Me, you can trust. My reactions to stuff, they aren’t as predictable. You’re right to worry. I’m sorry that you have to.”
“It’s actually a relief to know what I’m worrying about now… Before… I was worried about everything…”
She sighed as she turned around and I knew I’d slipped, I wasn’t trying to rub anything in, but had anyway.
“…Are you done yet? I want to be at the table when the next wave of food gets there or Baby Huey’s going to inhale it.”
The waitress was taking away the empty plate to replace it with the fresh batch of nachos when we got back.
Eric reached for one and Sookie slapped his hand. “You’re cut off, you little pig. Let us at least try them.”
He gave her a bitch-face, miming a gripe while we settled in. “Uncle Jason called. He said you didn’t answer your phone when he tried yours…” Oops. I dug her phone out of my pocket and gave it back to her. That must’ve been the call that tried to come through while I was talking to Octavia. “…He wants to talk to you ASAP.”
She furrowed her brow. “Is something wrong?”
“Sounds like it, but he wouldn’t say anything to me… Said he was heading over to see you in a few minutes.”
“He didn’t tell you anything?”
“Nope. He even told me to make myself scarce so that he can talk to you guys alone. I told him we were eating dinner. He said he’d wait.”
Sookie shrugged and took a chip. “Alright… Did you guys have the chance to look into fixing the birth certificate and last name thing yet?”
Eric shrugged as he answered a text. “I haven’t decided about my name yet… we already went to a doctor and had blood drawn…”
I added, “Once the results come back, we can take them to family court… then family court gives us an order to take to Vital Records.”
She smiled and gave a nod. “Not that what I think matters, but I’m voting for the name change.”
He looked confused even though I’d told him that she was fine with it. “Really?”
“You’d have been Eric Gehry Northman all along if I had my way.”
“It really wouldn’t bother you?” Maybe her statement just carried more weight when she wasn’t on the defensive and sobbing hysterically.
She gave him a sympathetic grin. “Sweetie, you should have your father’s name.”
“Says Sookie Stackhouse, daughter of an abusive, alcoholic felon.”
“Says Eric Stackhouse, grandson of an abusive, alcoholic felon… or… Eric Northman, son of a good, honest, hard working man… tell me there’s a contest.”
“I’ve always been Stackhouse though.”
She raised an eyebrow at him. “Women get married all the time and change their names. You’d get used to it, and you should decide soon so that your name change can be done before you start a new school.”
He nodded and said ‘alright’. Not like he’d made his decision already, more like he was taking her opinion into consideration. I’d only kept my 2 cents to myself because I wanted him to change his name for his own reasons. I didn’t want him to feel pressured to do it and regret it later… but there was another ‘fine line’ I felt like I was dancing. I wanted him to change his name. I wanted him to be Eric G. Northman. I’d already told him that. I wanted him to change his name. How the fuck I was supposed to make sure he knew that without making him feel obliged and without seeming indifferent? If he were younger, I’d probably already have my lawyers taking care of it without asking him, but he was almost a man. By the time I was his age, I’d filed a tax return.
“So what have you guys been up to other than the pond? It’s beautiful, by the way… The Elephant Ears and Sweet Kate are going to be even more gorgeous when they take root.”
He gave her a proud smile and only looked at her for a second before turning his attention back to his phone. “He let me go nuts at the nursery. And we can’t figure out where they came from, but a couple of tree frogs have already claimed the pond… Last night, we thought a dog wandered into the back yard. It was just them croaking.”
I nodded. “The Dawsons have a one of those little mop dogs. It can squeeze between the slats in the fence… Little fucker likes to dig. Broken ankle waiting to happen.”
Sookie giggled. “So the lawn boy and the architect met in the middle to do some landscape architecture. There’s a joke in there somewhere.”
Eric chuckled. “We can start with his neighbor. She needs a short bus instead of a Porsche. While we dug the pond, she drooled a trail down the fence.”
Sookie raised her eyebrows at him. “Oh really.”
“Yeah it was hotter than hell and we had out shirts off… she looked like an idiot.”
I took a sip of my drink and cleared my throat. “She’s warm for his form.”
“My form? She asked you to put her sunblock on…” He got another alert from his phone.
Sookie finally became curious enough to ask. “Who are you texting?”
He shrugged. “Some girl.”
“Does she have a name?”
She rolled her eyes. “Of course it is. Is she a friend from school?”
“Eric… Where do you know her from?”
He jerked his thumb over his shoulder. “From over there. She gave me her number.”
Sookie’s head involuntarily jerked to leer at the girl. “She just… she just walked up to the table and gave you her number?” It would be the fourth time this week.
“Yeah.” He was still texting.
“For no reason?”
“She had a reason.”
“What was her reason?”
“Well Mom… she said I make this t-shirt look like candy.”
I snorted tea through my nose, but Sookie was not amused. “That’s just… That’s just…”
I finished for her. “Adorable.”
She screamed a whisper, an art she’d perfected and I’d forgotten she could do. “It. Is. Not!”
I nodded instead of arguing. “The girl at the Gap was very helpful making sure his jeans fit correctly…”
“You should keep an eye on him. Half of Shreveport, the fairer half, has already flirted with him.” He pretended to be interested in his phone more than he was so that he could remove himself from the conversation. He was blushing which hadn’t been a problem when it was just the two of us.
“He’s only fifteen. He doesn’t need to be…”
“He can’t help it if pretty girls shamelessly flirt with him.”
She gasped. “Are you implying… You jerk.” I winked at her. Yes, I was implying that she’d been the one to flirt with me.
I scanned the dining room to find the girl texting feverishly… well, there were three of them… the most likely candidate (because she kept looking towards our table) was a ‘cute’ little brunette. Black sundress and flip flops, pony tail, modest hoop earrings and a class ring on her manicured hands. Her legs were crossed and her leg was swinging while she picked at French fries between texts… and the two adults at the table with her looked everywhere but at each other.
I leaned over and asked Eric quietly, “Big blue eyes, little black dress?”
He nodded and held his fist up without looking at me.
I snorted and ‘pounded it’. “Nice. Junior? Cheerleader?”
“Sophomore. Swim team… Hey Mom, is Fintan one of the schools you liked?”
She rolled her eyes. “Not anymore.”
In the hour it took for us to get our food because the restaurant was so packed, Eric must’ve gotten a hundred texts. Sookie jokingly asked if I’d gotten him an unlimited package, but I very seriously told her yes. I’d rather pay $100 per month so that he could do whatever the fuck he wanted than argue with him about overages. Yes, I was spoiling him passively. And I loved every second of it.
Part of me had expected Sookie to bicker about the cell phone. I didn’t know why he wouldn’t already have one or if he’d already abused one or gotten himself into trouble, but I’d purposefully not asked so that I could have culpable deniability.
Sookie was letting me. She was letting me do pretty much whatever I wanted and it almost took the fun out of it. It wasn’t that I wanted to argue, it’s that I was sure that if she didn’t feel so guilty, she’d have at least mentioned that I was spoiling Eric in good humor.
When our waitress brought drink refills while we were waiting for our desserts, she handed a napkin to Eric… When he looked at it, he gave it a cocky grin and looked around the restaurant… I looked with him and the search was over when a pretty little blonde with chin length hair and big brown eyes gave him a dimply grin.
“I think I’m going to like Shreveport, Mom. Good call.”
Sookie covered her eyes and chuckled even though she was grimacing. “I’m homeschooling you.”
He ignored her for a few minutes before singing, “I hear Dermot has an incredible track and field team.”
She rolled her eyes. “What’s that one’s name?”
“Trudi.” When he said her name he wiggled his eyebrows.
She covered her eyes again.
“Hey Sookie, what was it you used to call me?”
She uncovered her face to scowl at me, but I saw it. Not on her lips. In her eyes. Pussy Magnet. She remembered just as well as I did. “Not funny.”
“Like father, like son?”
“I wasn’t thinking. I could’ve gotten lucky and he’d be ugly.”
“With our genes? Not likely.”
“You wouldn’t be so amused if he were an Erica instead.”
“Because girls pass phone numbers when they’re interested. Guys ask for directions to the G…”
I shrugged. “It’s ok. We talked. I learned a few things.” Eric was lofting… texting while being endlessly amused at how agitated (in a fun way) his mother was.
“That’s not funny.”
Eric interjected, “What did she call you?”
I leaned over so that the nearby elderly couple wouldn’t overhear. “She called me a…”
Sookie interrupted me to growl. “Eric Northman… I’ll. Kick. Your. Ass.”
I smiled and gave her a wink. “I’m not allowed to tell you it seems, but it had to do with the fact that I was passed phone numbers whether my girlfriend was with me or not.”
She mouthed, ‘thank you’ while the waitress left our desserts and I watched the red diminish from her face as I went to sit next to her to make sharing our dessert easier.
“I used to call her the Ice Queen though.”
Eric laughed suddenly enough to spit a piece of cake out. “Ice Queen?”
Sookie blushed and elbowed me, so I explained. “Your mother always got just as much attention as I did… I called her Ice Queen because of the way she fought guys off. She had an answer for every pick-up you could think of and then some. She had a reputation for being unfriendly. She shot down one of my friends before we met. He asked her what her sign was. She told him, ‘not handicap accessible’.”
He started laughing his ass off and offered a fist across the table. I got a chuckle when she actually pounded it. “So uh… y’all should argue or something. I’m never gonna fit in at a new school if everyone hears that my parents don’t hate each other.”
Sookie laughed. “Poor baby, you’re out of luck. The only time we ever fought was when he punched my father.”
I nodded. “We’d been visiting for a couple of days when Jason’s oldest was born and it wasn’t a fight. This was back when they lived in Savannah. We stayed at Jason’s house because Crystal was still in the hospital. No one was expecting him to show up. When we were introduced, he asked me if I was treating ‘his little girl’ like she deserved. I told him no because she was working a job that she was too good for and sleeping in a shitty apartment, but at least I’d never put her in the hospital. When he had the balls to be offended, I clocked him. Knocked him on his ass.”
He laughed, “But you didn’t argue?”
“She yelled at me because I could’ve hurt my hand just like she did every time I bounced someone.”
“Bounced? Like at a club?”
I nodded and leaned forward to rest my elbows on the table. “Your mother took a job bartending at a bar not far from campus. I wasn’t going to let her get groped for tips.”
“I thought y’all worked at a book store.”
Sookie giggled. “We did… That’s how we met. We worked together there for about a year and a half… until our boss’s assets were seized by the IRS. He wasn’t so good at business. We got the jobs at Rafters to replace the book store jobs.”
I shrugged. “I told you I was a thug.”
“Then how did a thug end up working at a bookstore?”
“Aside from the fact that I’d had more than my fair share of sunburns from working construction for 5 years, I needed something in retail because of my class schedule. I applied everywhere. I took the job still hoping that Home Depot would call me for an interview because the hours were longer.”
Sookie nodded, “And by the time they called him, he was happy as a clam working at the shop with me.”
“Who wouldn’t be? I got spoiled fast…” She giggled, but Eric wanted clarification. “…The term before we met, your mother made friends everywhere. The little old man who filled the vending machines in her dorm used to bring her freebie drinks and candy by the box. She’d made enough friends in her dorm that when they all gained the ‘freshman 15’ her closet overflowed. Our study group, the one she started, was hooked up. We ate free restaurant food 2 nights per week…”
Sookie added, “He had construction experience that really came in handy and he made cash on the side by building models for practically everyone. It was his favorite part… His roommate pirated the latest version of AutoCAD for us so that we wouldn’t be stuck in computer lab all the time…”
Nice try. “…Because he liked it when she was over. Tank tops, short skirts… it was the only way he’d ever have a girl in his dorm room willingly. I ran into him a couple years ago. Still a virgin.”
She snorted, “Poor Gerald… We were so mean to him.”
“What about Arlene? While she was on her bible jag, you used to buy us some alone time by telling her that you saw flyers for an abortion clinic in the student union.”
“I never orchestrated a Stephen King collectables auction in Tennessee so that we could have a weekend alone.”
“It worked, didn’t it?” She couldn’t argue, but she did blush. Neither of us walked right for a week. “Now that you two have eaten your weight in seafood, I guess we should get back so that we don’t keep Jason waiting.” Not that I wanted to end ‘family dinner’, but the longer we talked about ‘the old days’, the harder it was to avoid mentioning that I’d heard from almost all of our old friends since she left… and that the general consensus between them was that she was dead… Alcide, Chow and Sam were going to be the topic of a big conversation that would need to happen soon, but…
‘Family dinner’ was too much fun, considering that it was our first one, too special to fucking wreck it with the details of her disappearance.
Sookie agreed that we should see what Jason wanted to talk to us about…
Eric asked if he could order something ‘to take home’ for later.
He called it home.