Since Arlene had participated in her church’s ‘Devotional Lock In’, Sookie and I had taken advantage of the roomie-free room and I’d spent the night.
At about 6:30 I woke up when her alarm went off. She climbed out of the bed over me to go to the bathroom, but she came right back and laid on me with her head on my chest and her feet still didn’t meet mine.
“Who was your first girlfriend?” It was kind of out of nowhere, but I thought it was cute that she was so random.
“Uhhhh… first girlfriend of any kind or ‘the virginity girlfriend’… and then I need you to define virginity.”
“Both and actual sex.”
“Jesus, you’re demanding.”
She giggled. “You didn’t mind last night.” And because I wouldn’t mind it again and soon, I was cooperating. I could’ve kicked myself for thinking about leaving her at the bookstore when she said she was avoiding her roommate… Staying was something to add to the list of ‘shit I’d gotten right’.
“Good point… My first girlfriend was my cousin Pam.”
She shot back to sit upright in a heartbeat and straddled my legs to look down at me. As expected, her look was something between laughing and puking…
I couldn’t help but laugh. “She’s 12 years older than me and she was soooooo fat, I mean circus fat… She was babysitting me and she had a friend over and they were making fun of this girl dating some guy she liked… I was like 4. I didn’t know any better. I asked her to be my ‘gull-fween’… The best part is that every time I see her now, I call her that and she gets pissy because it reminds her of being tons-of-fun before she had her stomach stapled and went on her liquid diet. The look on her face is priceless.”
She giggled and laid back down. “You have no idea what a relief that is.”
“I’m sure… My first real girlfriend was Holly. I’d known her since kindergarten… we were 12 when I asked her out and we basically held hands for 2 years… Tonya was my first. We were dating in high school and we lasted about 3 months after we had sex on her den floor while her parents were out of town. Your turn.”
“Her name was Cindy.”
She laughed, “The question was first girlfriend.”
“You had a girlfriend?”
“For five minutes in a closet. Goddamn bottle was supposed to stop at a boy named JB.”
“Not fair. I just got all kinds of mental images…”
“How? You don’t even know what Cindy looked like.”
“I was picturing Drew Barrymore. I’m fine with that.”
She snorted. “Not even close. I actually like yours better.”
“Good. Let me keep it. I’ll save it for later… Back to the boyfriend thing.”
“Oh, yeah… Hoyt.”
“Tell me you’re kidding. What kind of name is Hoyt?”
“Sookie. You’re sleeping with a girl named Sookie. Shut. Your. Mouth.”
I laughed at her and rolled us over. “Very sorry. Continue.”
“Hoyt was a friend of Jason’s in high school. When Jason left for the Army after he graduated, Hoyt started taking me to and from school and work. I was 15. He was 19… We were on a camping trip with a bunch of friends and we’d gotten ahold of some booze… we tried dating for a while after but it didn’t work out. Never say anything to Jason. He’d kill Hoyt in a heartbeat.”
“Your brother would kill his friend for fucking his baby sister? No. Why would he do that?” I didn’t even have a sister and I’d known better than to date the sister of any of my friends. Even if the age gap wasn’t on the disturbing side. Sisters were just off limits.
“It wasn’t creepy or anything. He’d only had a couple of girlfriends and yes, they were his age… As a matter of fact, I could tell he liked me, but Jason was the reason he didn’t ask me out.”
“He just got you drunk and fucked you instead.”
She narrowed her eyes at me. “He didn’t get me drunk. I got drunk. He got drunk. We got frisky when he tried to help me into the tent because I practically fell onto it. He’s a really nice guy.”
“If you say so…”
I wasn’t going to push the issue anyway, because I was hoping to have some fun before we needed to go to class, but I was interrupted by a deafening pounding like someone was trying to cave in the door to Sookie’s room. Sookie squirmed out from under me and threw my pants to me while the man trying to break in the door barked ‘Sookie’ and he sounded pissed.
Just what I fucking needed.
She yelled at the door, “Don’t you dare! I’m not dressed!” but it was too late.
The pounding stopped just a second before the door opened. I was still trying to turn my jeans right side out and Sookie was standing at her closet with one arm through a T-shirt. Whoever the fuck he was, he was huge. My height, but his shoulders were as wide as a Cadillac and the sleeves of his T were screaming. Sookie probably could’ve worn the big, gold ID bracelet on his wrist as a necklace… Me plus steroids. Lots of them.
“Ain’t nothing I haven’t seen before…” He kissed her cheek and sat at her desk with a couple of McDonalds bags and a plastic tool box. “…Happy Sookie day.” He wasn’t pissed, or at least he didn’t look like he was… His voice was just that… is ‘thundery’ a word?
“Dammit Alcide!” She snatched the sweats she’d been wearing the night before from the floor and yanked them on.
He didn’t seem to care that Sookie wasn’t happy to see him or that both of us were naked. He looked up at me. “Damn, Arlene. No wonder you can’t pick a religion. Start with something simple, like gender.” He leaned back to look at Sookie upside down. “Did I miss the co-ed dorm lotto drawing?”
She slapped his forehead. “Eric, this is Alcide. My most recent boyfriend.” At least he seemed to be too casual to be a problem ex. Sookie only seemed upset because we were barged in on. Not because he was there.
He held his hand out to shake mine. I don’t know why the fuck I shook it. Is there a standard of manners when you’re nude? “You’re the bookstore guy, huh? Good on y’all then… Where’s the bible bimbo?” The bookstore guy? She’d talked about me?
Sookie sighed like she knew he wasn’t going to leave. “You better have brought me breakfast if you’re going to wake me up like that… She spent the night at some ‘secular slumber party’ thing.”
She plopped down on the end of her bed and he held out a cup of coffee to her. “Sugar with one packet of coffee.”
“I don’t use that much…”
We both said, “Yes, you do.” When a person can eat a whole brownie while they pour sugar into their coffee… ‘that much’ is exactly the right way to put it.
He held a cup out to me while I was still buttoning my jeans. “Since you’re standing in for Arlene, you get hers. I’ve got cream in the bag. Sookie keeps sugar under her pillow…” She kicked his leg and opened the drawer to her desk and handed me a couple of sugar packets and he dumped a bag out onto the desk. I had a ‘when in Rome’ feeling, so I sat down on the bed and got comfortable against the wall.
When she reached, he grabbed her hands and told her, “Slow down, Lard Ass. Let someone else get some…” He tossed two to me and grabbed a couple for himself. “…Go ahead, Pudge. Have at it.” Lard ass and Pudge had to be just an ironic nickname thing… I had an aunt (and a few cousins by proxy) who still called me ‘Shortie’… the only big thing about Sookie was her smile. She was petite, fragile looking… tiny.
She grabbed three bacon, egg and cheese McMuffins and sat back on her bed. “I still want to thrash you. Why are you here so early?”
“It’s Sookie Day.” He said it like FTD had been advertising it like Mother’s Day.
“We only have two classes together this session. You didn’t call yesterday…”
“Study group. I’ve got you tonight too. It’s close enough. Melissa wants me to confirm numbers. Are we still six?”
She shook her head. “No. 8.”
She smiled, making him wait while she finished chewing. “Chow and Blin. Last night. We ordered takeout and he asked when he delivered it.”
“We got The Chow?” I’d heard. I’d never put much bank on the idea of the study group thing. ‘The right study group could make or break a GPA’… but after hearing some of the perks to who was in the study group I’d tripped over by working with Sookie, I was starting to see the reasoning. And the way Alcide said ‘the Chow’, felt like he was talking about a first round draft pick.
She nodded, so I asked. “What’s the deal about him?”
Alcide mumbled out past a mouthful, “Crowe’s TA.”
“Crowe? The ‘little’ study group includes the TA for the department head?”
Sookie nodded. “Yeah. He’s a grad student, but he has a hard time writing papers for his core classes because English is his second language. We proofread for him and he feeds us leads. Chow being in, brings the study group’s common GPA up to 3.9.”
My eyes. They bugged out. I know they did.
Alcide added, “And Blin, she’s no slouch. Math-lete, Engineering major. That bitch has a brain by Texas Instruments… She’s shit for writing form though. Her papers need to be rearranged like a slide puzzle so they make sense.”
“What’s your weakness?”
“Nothing. I just can’t focus for shit. ADD like a mother fucker. Since like 1st grade. If I have a deadline, I can think of everything but what I need to.”
“Sounds like me… and I need a leash on size. I like commercial architecture. I’m fucked for residential unless I’m given unlimited footage, well, acreage…”
“Fuck yeah. I’ll drink to that… Hey Wide Load, go get your shower so we can get out of here. The food isn’t going to evaporate. You can eat the rest of them on the way to class.”
“On my bike?”
“You’re going to haul your drafting board on your bike, in the rain so it can warp?”
She whined, “Shit. It’s raining?”
“Yeah. That annoying pneumonia mist too. I’ll be your driver today because the last time you were sick, you nearly killed 4 people.” He leaned to the side to mouth ‘watch out’ to me and managed to look impressively terrified as he did.
She narrowed her eyes. “If you’re my chauffer, where’s your little hat?”
He wiggled his eyebrows. “I left it under my organ grinder’s bed… Go on. Unfunk yourself. You smell like books and sex.”
She growled on her way off the bed and to the bathroom, taking a McMuffin with her. “Nothing wrong with that… big asshole… my morning… I have a phone… could’ve called…” I was laughing by the time she closed the door behind her.
While Sookie showered, we mostly talked about different teachers and classes we’d already dealt with while he went through Sookie’s desk and closet to gather her things for class… but he did ‘warn’ me that if I hurt her there would be ‘a pack of rabid mother fuckers’ with a hard on for putting my head on a plate. Her brother would lead the mob and he’d light the torches… then he transitioned into a tangent about Meadowbrook being Lucifer’s daughter.
Not a couple minutes went by before we heard a key in the lock. Without any pause he pulled his shirt off and tossed it into the corner… “…I’m always down for a good tag team, but we really should gear her up for anal. You can’t beat a good DP…” He turned around and smiled at the redhead who’d just walked in like he didn’t know she was there. She was already as red as her hair. “Oh, hey Arlene. Missed you last night.” Then he winked at her…
She slammed the door behind her when she ran out and we were still laughing our asses off when Sookie came out of the bathroom wrapped in a towel. I was still sitting on her bed and Alcide grabbed his shirt to put it back on. “What did you do?”
Sookie looked at me. “What did he do?”
I shrugged. “Arlene came in and he said hey… She ran out before I could introduce myself.”
She stared at me with an evil look and her tongue danced around inside her cheek. “Very nice. If your first building collapses, then you can fall back on your skills of condensing stories for Reader’s Digest…” She turned on Alcide. “Your shirt was off… You made her think, what… that we’d been a threesome?”
He shook his head. “Nawwww…” He turned around and curled his back, backing up to her. “I had an itch and my girlfriend over there wouldn’t scratch it. Doorjamb didn’t help either… Get it for me? Right in the middle?”
She acted like she fell for it and started scratching. She let him send her on a wild goose chase for a non-existent itch all over his back until she ‘got it’ and then she punched him in the ass and went back to the bathroom mumbling about how much ‘extra evangelical bullshit’ she was going to have to listen to.
During our quiet time as we opened the bookstore that day, Sookie explained that ‘Alcide likes things a certain way’… Before they started dating, everything was fine, but once they were a couple he expected her to change. She said it was little things, but that she had a feeling it would snowball… Breaking up fixed the problem. Once they stopped sleeping together, they were back to being friends. She was even friendly with his new girlfriend who she said was better for Alcide than she’d been because Melissa was more pliable/less stubborn.
That night at our first study group meeting, we didn’t bother with books as much as hung out. Since it was the first week of school, no one had anything taxing to worry about anyway. Melissa didn’t seem very fond of Sookie, but that was probably because Alcide didn’t seem to have any boundaries when it came to the history he had with her…
It wasn’t like he was rubbing his girlfriend’s nose in the fact that he used to fuck the elephant in the room, he just didn’t make any bones of how well they knew each other. He passed her the shaker of salt before she’d finished asking for it. He changed the radio station when Guns N Roses came on because (apparently) Axl’s voice irritated her… When Sookie mentioned having a crush on Sebastian Bach, he nudged my arm and joked that he should’ve stayed ‘skinny’ and dyed his hair blond. I took it as a joke. I got it. Melissa- not so amused.
Sookie made fun of me once everyone was gone and we were cleaning up. She’d noticed me watching how they were together. But I was watching out of curiosity while Melissa seemed to be waiting for Sookie to give Alcide a hand job or something along the lines… I admitted that it was weird. I’d never stayed friends with an ex. I’d never had a friend who stayed friends with an ex that didn’t want to get back together. The weirdest part was that once you exclude that she sat on my knee a couple of times, she didn’t interact with Alcide any differently than she did with the other 5 people there. And the same could be said for him once you leave out that Melissa was the only one he’d given any dirty looks to.
Melissa wasn’t part of the study group for long. She stopped coming when they broke up during a Monday night meeting. She accused him of flirting with Sookie… His reply included, “Jealous bitches are a dime a dozen, but a real friend like Sookie is hard to come by. If you don’t like that I’m friends with a girl, then carry your ass on.” And he’d said it in front of the whole group without looking up from the book of Asian architecture he was searching for project inspiration.
No one went after Melissa when she stormed out. Sookie had won the popular vote.
Instead of chalking him up as a dating mistake, Sookie had kept him on the payroll as best friend. He was good at the job. Good enough that I couldn’t blame her and he quickly became our best friend. He was one of only three friends I kept from college. Everyone else faded into the category of ‘old classmate’ or ‘friendly acquaintance’.
I wasn’t sure, but it was a safe bet that my tossing and turning had been caused by Sookie’s arrival… I’d had more than a few sleepless nights, but once I’d laid eyes on her again, even learning what she’d been through… I’d slept like a rock every night since Eric and I had gotten back from Jackson. Our reunion had only given me more to think about, but I wasn’t scared for her anymore.
The new problem was the reason we took jobs in Shreveport to begin with.
He was from Shreveport. He was why we applied to the firms we had…
Sookie and I sent our portfolios to dozens of companies and when we’d heard back from everyone, our options for staying together without commuting were Shreveport, D.C., Portland and Chicago… Chicago was somewhere that I would’ve thrived, but because Sookie preferred designing single family homes, her career would’ve been caged. D.C. would’ve been the same problem in reverse because the Metro area didn’t have much room to grow commercially. I left the choice between Portland and Shreveport to Sookie. Even though it was only an hour away from Bon Temps and the people she wanted to avoid, Shreveport won because A- Alcide and B- Portland was too far away from Jason and by then, Jason Jr.
I’m pretty sure that Alcide was happier to hear about where we were going than Jason was. Jason wanted Sookie to stay out of Louisiana completely… He asked her if the Portland job was still an option. Alcide… He got a keg and gave us a Rand McNally book for Shreveport.
I’d blown him off 3 times since Eric and I had gotten back from the confrontation that changed how we expected to react to never knowing one another… a lunch, a trip to the driving range and most recently… an invitation to a new club to search for ‘fresh meat’. The last time I turned him down for any of those activities was when I’d had the flu bad enough to be arguing with my doctor about whether I needed to be admitted to the hospital or not. Sure, I could’ve left Eric at the house for a little while, but I didn’t want to… and explaining things to Alcide without talking to Sookie first wasn’t an option. It felt wrong. Considering how much Eric favored me, not explaining wasn’t an option either… Everytime I passed one of the many phones in my house, I had to force myself to keep walking instead of calling my best friend, our best friend and tell him that Sookie was fine and we were parents… that he was an uncle.
As long as I’d known him, I couldn’t guess how he would react to the news. He’d buried Sookie years ago. He never could understand why I tortured myself trying to find her. The Sookie we knew wouldn’t have gone so long without contacting her boyfriend, her best friend and her brother. Part of me expected him to go after Jason when he found out. While I’d been waiting at our apartment for word, he’d driven down to Savannah to see if he could ‘smell bullshit’. The other part expected for him to show up with detailed diagrams and the minutia of Barry’s life in a manila file folder so that we could hunt him down and kill him slowly. That rat bastard never would’ve tried anything with Sookie if Alcide and I hadn’t been anchored off the coast of Florida while Sam cheated on his fiancé.
Hoping to tranquilize myself enough to get some rest, I took a rum and coke out to the lanai. Checking on the fish to make sure Bob and Fu hadn’t become floaters for one reason or another had been as good of a reason as any… Rum, crickets and the running water in the pond’s fountain seemed like the perfect remedy for insomnia.
I’d nursed my drink down to the point that it wasn’t much more than flavored ice and I was considering a second when Sookie came out to join me.
She settled onto the sofa next to me and pulled her knees into her robe like it was a blanket. “At least you’re not pacing. Everything alright?”
I nodded. “Yeah… I couldn’t get to sleep. I was just thinking that we’d need to have a serious talk soon.”
She seemed lost in watching the pond water trickle over the flagstone waterfall that Eric needed no help building. “K. What about?”
She jerked her neck to look at me. “Do you still see him?”
“All the time. I’m half expecting him to call me to let me know about the club he went to tonight. We see each other a few times a week.”
Her chin puckered. “How is he? What’s he been up to?”
“He’s shopping for his fourth wife as we speak.”
“Oh my god. You’re kidding me.”
“Nope. One of them was a drunken Vegas wedding that I’ve sworn to keep the details of to myself, but I’ve been his best man all 3 times. He has a little girl. She’s 8. She has a mouth on her and calls him ‘Dad-zilla’ when she doesn’t get her way. She’s cute though. Thank God she took after her mother.”
“What did he say? You know… about everything.”
“I haven’t told him anything. I’ve been blowing him off and hoping he didn’t start stalking me before I could talk to you.”
“Are you asking me if he’s getting an abridged version or who should tell him?” Part of me was just relieved that he hadn’t known all along like Jason.
“Both. He was with me the whole time… he was my babysitter for the first few years until he made me his partner in crime.”
She snickered quietly. “You’ve always been his partner in crime. You two used to gang up on me.”
“I have no idea what you’re talking about. I was as innocent as a newborn babe.”
“Why don’t we track down Arlene and ask her if she shares that opinion.”
“We could… We could call Sam and Chow though. I bet they’d be on my side.”
“You still hear from them too?”
I nodded. “I stayed with Chow when the museum in Atlanta opened… Him and Blin adopted a couple of kids when trying didn’t work out for them… Sam and Callista filed for an annulment within a year of their wedding… he has four kids and none of them have the same mom. The only one he bothered marrying was Callista.”
She sniffled and I was sure it was because she wasn’t fond of the irony… the bachelor party that was the first domino in 16 years of pain for all of us was for nothing… the pill would’ve been easier to swallow if Sam and Callista lived happily ever after or some shit. “So, do you hear from anyone else?”
“Only when I go to Alumni functions…” My phone started to ring from the pocket of my pajama pants. “I told you.”
She smiled and gave me a little nod.
I hit the speaker button. “Hello.”
“You missed nothing. NOTHING. The joint is cliché as shit. The drinks are watered down and I think I’m getting old because the ‘women’ in the joint looked barely legal… The bartender was hot… but so was her fucking girlfriend.” Sookie covered her mouth and her eyes welled up.
“Did I wake you up? Ha! At least I’m not such an old fart that I’m in bed before 2 on a Friday…”
“I know where she is.”
He was quiet for a second, letting what I’d said click I guess. “I’m on my way over.”
It took longer than I thought it would for him to get to my house and when I left Sookie on the lanai with a drink of her own, I left the panel open… not just so she could hear how Alcide took the news, but so I could hear her if she had another panic attack.
When I heard his breaks squeal out front, I opened the front door and waited so that his usual door pounding wouldn’t scare the shit out of Eric.
As well as I knew him, I couldn’t read the look on his face as he brushed past me to go straight to the liquor cabinet in my kitchen. Scared or pissed, either way he needed 3 doses of Maker’s Mark before he gave me the ‘gimmie’ gesture. “Dead or alive?”
He nodded, but answering him didn’t change the look on his face. He cleared his throat. “Where? Where the fuck has she been?”
“Mississippi? What the fuck was she doing there?”
“Working for Edgington all this time.”
“NOfuckingWAY… Have you talked to her?”
I nodded. “Several times this week.”
He went around to sit on a barstool. “I’ll beat your ass for not telling me before tonight later… Start the story.”
“The night before we got back from Florida, when Sookie and the girls were already back from their trip, she was raped. The hospital workers treated her like a party girl with ‘morning after syndrome’ and nothing was done.”
“Quiet down. I have company.”
“Yeah, I noticed the car… Who raped her? What happened?”
“She tended bar at Rafters since most of the staff was out of town for Sam and Callista’s bullshit… she had a couple of drinks while she cleaned up like we usually did… Barry slipped her something and took her back to our place. She couldn’t fight him off.”
“Barry? Barry, our friend, Barry? Barry, the prick that ‘helped’ us look for her, Barry? That mother fucker…”
“She wasn’t going to tell me because she knew I’d kill him… but… she left after graduation because she was pregnant.”
He put his hands on the counter and stared at the marble. “I think I’m going… to be sick… she… she took off and…”
“She ended up having a lot of problems because of the rape. Namely PTSD. She’s been afraid to contact me all this time because she was worried I’d flip out…”
“She was… So she was hiding out all this time because she was raising Barry’s kid or… because she… what the fuck? How did you find her?”
“I didn’t… My son came looking for me.”
“The kid is yours!” With his back to the lanai, Sookie leaned against the gap in the glass panels. She was crying, but not enough for me to worry about… I think she might’ve come into view to make me feel better about how I was explaining everything.
I nodded and shushed him while I finally poured my second drink. “She couldn’t have known that when she left… He’s 15. His name is Eric Gehry Stackhouse. He looks just like me and he figured that out when he saw me in Architectural Digest. He came along a month ago and offered to start cutting my grass as an excuse to knock on my door. He’d been doing yard work every Saturday until Jason’s wife showed up to give him a lift… Pandora’s Box opened up.”
“No shit…” He was still staring at the counter, but he didn’t look sick anymore. “…He’s yours though… Why did she stay gone?”
“The PTSD seriously fucked with her. She was having hallucinations for more than a decade… She’s moving. Here. To Shreveport. She’s been well enough to handle things for a while; she was just scared of how to approach me…”
“Jumpy and prone to panic attacks, but yes… her biggest problem is feeling guilty about me and Eric not meeting until now. She had a therapist at first that only made things worse because he misdiagnosed her. If any fucking thing about the situation could be considered funny, you could call it a comedy of errors… everything went wrong.”
“She raised your boy on her own… all this time… Is he an asshole?”
I snorted a laugh into my drink and saw Sookie crack a smile over the rim of my glass. “No. He’s bitter because he’s too young to really understand what she went through, but he’s fucking amazing. I thought he was a good kid before I knew he was mine too.”
“When is she moving? When can I… gimmie her number. I want to talk to her.”
“6? What kind of…”
“Alcide, she’s my company… she’s at your 6.”
He scowled at me. “That shit isn’t funny…”
Sookie cut him off before he could accuse me of being ‘all kinds of fucked up’. “Alcide.”
When he heard her, he spun around fast enough to remind himself that he slammed back that Maker’s Mark. He swayed as he stood up and practically charged towards her. “I am pissed as all hell… Do you have any idea what we went through?… I’m gonna kick your fat ass for that, but if you don’t get over here and give me a hug, Porky, I’m gonna tear off and kill something.”
As soon as he said ‘fat ass’ Sookie’s crying deepened. I was sure that he was the last one to call her anything close to fat… Tubby… Chunk… Moose… Kong… Jumbo… Flubber…
Her arms were up to go around his shoulders by the time he got to her and he looked just as huge as he ever did when he used to hug her. She practically disappeared.
Her feet dangled while she cried into his neck.
When he finally put her down, they both wiped their eyes. He tried to cover by claiming he threw his back out picking her up. I laughed, but I didn’t call him on it.
Sookie poured our much needed refills as we all let our nerves settle.
She smiled at him. “Do you have pictures of your little girl?”
He grinned and started pulling out his wallet. “She’s not so little. Almost as tall as her mother already and she’s a pain in the ass. Belle’s grounded more often than not.”
Sookie stopped misting over the pictures as soon as she realized what she’d heard… “Wait… You… you named her Belle?”
“Yes, her name is Belle… I fucking missed you… Don’t judge me… If it makes you feel better, her retarded mother accused me a being closet-gay for liking the name because I sure as shit wasn’t going to tell her the real reason… Where’s Junior. Is he here?”
Sookie was already nodding when Eric came downstairs, rubbing his eyes in nothing but his saggy pajama pants.
“JUNIOR is right here. Junior was trying to get some sleep, but Junior’s ‘rents are having a freakin’ party.” He went straight to the fridge and pulled out his leftovers and pushed up to sit on the counter to eat his crabcakes and steamed shrimp cold.
Alcide was staring.
“He looks just… He’s even cut like… Damn tan’s even the same… Fucking mini-Eric!”
Eric snorted. “I’ll take junior over mini-Eric, dude. Junior implies that I’m similar to my father. Mini-Eric sounds like a babyish dickname…. Besides, 5’11” isn’t mini-anything.”
Alcide laughed at him. “At least he got something from Sookie… Are you even taking the shells off those shrimp?”
He smirked but barely looked up because he was too busy eating a full sized crabcake like it was a cookie.
Alcide watched him for a minute before he shook it off with a shudder like he’d been watching feeding time at a gator farm. “When’s the move going to be permanent?”
“Not soon enough. I already gots me some chickies lined up.”
Sookie rolled her eyes at him. “I don’t have much to do on this end. Just furnishing the house. I’m not sure what I want to do about the house in Jackson yet. A week or two. Russell wants me here ASAP.”
“So back and forth until then?”
“I’ll probably spend a few days packing up personal stuff.”
Eric added with a mouthful of food, “Me and Dad have schools to look at and stuff, but I need to get my school records from Jackson and take a bow with my friends…” Dad. Fucking wow. He’d said it… he’d said it without a question mark being behind it.
If I spent too much time thinking about it, I would’ve had more to deal with than another lump in my throat… and Alcide would conveniently forget that he’d just been crying and not do me the favor I did him by glossing over it. “We could do the schools this week while your mom’s here and then go to Jackson next week with her, help pack up… Once the house is empty, I can lock her to a bike rack so you can throw a going away party.”
Eric started smiling and offered a fist as he nodded. “I like the way you think…”
Sookie gasped, “I don’t think so!”
“Why not?” Alcide, Eric and I had all asked at the same time and instead of laughing like the rest of us, she gave us all dirty looks so I added, “With all of the personal effects out of the house, he couldn’t hurt anything. He can manage the planning and inviting from here… Besides, we can have it catered and he’ll be in the kitchen the whole time… There aren’t any neighbors to bother, there’s a hotel close by that we can stay at and he has a cell if something comes up.”
Eric and Alcide agreed by nodding and staring at her, impatiently waiting for her to change her mind. “Oh, so this is it, huh? My fate is having all 2 and ¾ of you ganging up on me?”
I shook my head and pointed at Alcide. “No… he’s easily 1 ¼, so it would be 3.”
“That’s not funny.”
“Yes it is, but if you feel ganged up on then sleep on it and get back to us later.”
“Then I’d be the party-pooper.”
“In the literal sense… If you aren’t comfortable with letting him use your house, would you feel better about getting a party room at the hotel and let him have the party there? We could lurk, check in on things from time to time.”
“That’s a little excessive, don’t you think?”
“Maybe, but if he’d been an Erica, we’d be staring down the barrel of a Sweet 16 party anyway, right?”
“Are y’all going to turn around and give me some crap about him needing one of those too?”
We all very seriously shook our heads. She didn’t need to know that I was already plotting to celebrate his 16th birthday by car shopping. Not yet anyway. I wasn’t going to be an asshole about it and exclude her for the sake of excluding her, but I wanted to do it. I wanted to buy my son his first car… Not in some spiteful score keeping gesture because I hadn’t gotten to buy his first bike, just because I missed out on it.
She stared at us all, but I was the target of the longest glare before she finally huffed, “Fine. The hotel version of the shindig. That way if anything happens, the hotel’s insurance has to deal with it. And no pool access. They should all stay fully clothed.”
“Yes ma’am.” That time it was only Eric and me… but only because Alcide was dragging out, “Swwweeeeeeeeeet.”
By the time we’d all settled down again and Eric had been pried away from planning his ‘encore’ at the computer, I settled into bed at nearly 4am with a collection of weights off of my chest.
I almost didn’t know how to act and the day had been too long to try to put it all together… Especially since it seemed like it was already doing that on its own…
I could already hear Alcide snoring in the next room… Before he staggered to the bed that he’d crashed on more times than I can remember, he’d planned an early visit to the gym… Sookie had been invited, but she informed us that if we woke her up to go work out, she’d thrash us all.
I was smiling at my ceiling when the tapping on my door caught my attention. I looked over and Sookie was standing in the frame, pulling on her lip.
“I still pace, you still pull your lip, huh?”
She made the effort to shove her hand into her pocket and I waved her in and patted the bed as I sat up.
She climbed up to sit next to me with a sigh and my bed suddenly felt dirty. Not because Sookie was there… because other women had been. It made me sick to see Sookie sitting there when I’d wasted so much time fucking useless, faceless, nameless women on it… while Sookie was raising our son and barely keeping her grip on sanity, I was redundantly spending time with women who I knew wouldn’t ever measure up to her.
I couldn’t burn the fucking thing soon enough.
“What’s bothering you?”
She huffed at her hands. I waited for what felt like forever… but she never said anything. It just looked like she was trying to figure out what to say… Shit. I’d already fucked up.
“I’m sorry. I won’t… I’ll try to not do that again. I put you on the spot and…”
“That’s not it…” She snorted out a giggle. “Good, but that’s not what I’m thinking about… I’m… You’re spoiling him.”
How the fuck was I supposed to respond to that without rubbing her nose in something she had no fucking control over? “Do you want me to…”
“Hang on…” She took a deep breath and let her head fall back to look at the ceiling. “I didn’t raise him like that. I never wanted him to be looking for handouts… Not like what we came from.”
“I know. Three sentences into his ‘can I cut your grass?’ pitch, he told me about his mom matching him dollar for dollar… I hired him because of it.”
She smiled slightly. “You want to buy him a car for his birthday.” Fuck. Busted.
“I wouldn’t without talking to you though…”
She groaned, “Would you shut up? I want you to.”
“You want me to buy him a car? After you made a deal with him?”
“As long as you want to, I want you to spoil him… You have every right to want to and I don’t want you to think I’m going to flip my lid about every little thing you get him… I got to do a lot of stuff you didn’t. I understand. It actually makes me happy to see you get to do it…”
I smiled and kissed her cheek. “Don’t get me wrong, I’m excited that you’re fine with it… but…”
“Damn it, girl, I had a pitch and everything.”
She folded over and started giggling into the comforter. When she sat up, she narrowed her eyes. “Eric Northman, you can’t just go out and buy a 16 year old boy a new car. How is he going to appreciate anything if you hand him everything he wants on a silver platter?” She was almost convincing.
I whined. “But Sookie… I was thinking… we won’t tell him that I’m doing it. Right? That way he still works and does some earning and saving. That way, he still learns the value of a dollar…”
She rolled her eyes up and tried to sound forlorn. “Oh, Eric… I don’t know… 16 is so young…”
I batted my eyelashes and I was surprised she didn’t laugh in my face. I had to look like an idiot… “But Sookie, I’ll keep the car in my name until he leaves for college… and… and… and… If his grades slip, it gets a boot… and he has to start paying for the insurance on his own as soon as he gets the first point on his license… and he still has to earn to maintain it. Tune ups, no bumming gas money, taxes… that kind of thing… I think we can spoil him a little and still let him know what it means to take care of himself.”
She let herself snicker. “Not bad. I’d have been sold… wait. Were you done?”
I nodded. “I think so.”
She nodded. “A-.”
“You forgot to play the guilt card… ‘We worked our asses off so our kids wouldn’t have to struggle for everything like we did’.” God damn it. I missed a good one.
“Shit. I’m new here. Give me a curve or something.”
“Fine. A… but don’t think you’re going to get a plus.”
I laughed at her. “I don’t deserve it. The struggle bit. I should’ve thought about it… I won’t forget it again though.”
She gave me a very stern look. “Of course you won’t… And I think the going away party is a good idea too… I think the closure will be good for him.”
“Ummm. It’s a good thing I thought about that?”
She slapped her hand over her mouth to catch her laugh and swatted my shoulder with her other hand. “That was just brazen spoiling, huh?”
I cringed and nodded. “Sorry.”
“No. We’ll just call it a ‘half birthday’.”
“What the fuck is that?”
She shrugged. “Some stupid crap my secretary suggested a long time ago when I complained that his birthday is so close to Christmas. It makes him hard to buy for… Some people actually do it at the halfway mark. I thought about it, but I still wouldn’t have let it slip by… He would’ve been spoiled because I still would’ve done the party/cake/gifts thing for him.”
“Sounds silly to me too… So… my bid, just a rough draft… I’ll start spoiling related bargaining high… then you negotiate me down to reasonable range… then I agree with your position. No bad guy. Spoiling ÷ logic + common goals = win/win.”
She smiled. It was ear to ear as she nodded. “Sounds like a perfect plan. Count me in.”
“You know, I think you did an amazing job, right? He’s a great kid.”
Even though there was barely any light in my room, I could see her eyes mist over and I lost her smile. “Eric, don’t… I…”
I put my hands on her shoulders and pulled her to me. “Would it make you feel better if I told you that I wish I was there for it all? I do. I’d give everything… Sookie, I hate that I missed so much. I don’t blame you though. I know you weren’t gone because you wanted to be. He has both of us now. Right? He might even be better off… The odds weren’t in our favor. Look at Alcide and Sam…”
She shook her head and tightened her arms around me. “No… no. They didn’t have what we did. They weren’t even close. I screwed everything up… I ruined it.”
“You didn’t ruin anything. I did. Why didn’t you tell me what Barry did to you?”
She didn’t say anything. She didn’t have to. She knew me better than anyone and she knew if she told me, Eric’s father would be in prison for murder.
“You don’t have to answer me, Sookie. I know why. You already told me why… I don’t blame you for what happened. I blame Barry. I blame the mother fucker we called our friend. I blame him because we both trusted him. I blame him because if it weren’t for that cocksucker I’d have been in the room when my son was born instead of sitting in our apartment on the mattress by the window, hoping you’d finally come home. I would’ve been on road trips with my family instead of going to morgues hoping you weren’t the one under the sheet. We would have scrapbooks instead of apologies. We would have one pigsty with smudged walls and a mountain of laundry instead of a pair of pristine mausoleums in separate states. We’d be dealing with sibling rivalry instead of the fallout of Eric learning that his mother was raped. I blame Barry. One hundred fucking percent. I was robbed. I have 2 years to make up for 15 fucking years that I missed out on. And every single goddamn time I catch myself feeling bitter about what I don’t have or what I didn’t get, Barry’s head is the one I picture on a plate. If you feel guilty, if you feel like you need to make something up to me, hate him instead. He’s the one that took you away from me. He’s the one that kept our family from being together. He’s the one that kept us from being happy all this time. He’s the one that did this to us.”
Her tears ran over her cheeks and down my chest as she cried quietly. “I could’ve come to you so many times though…”
“If you had been raped by a stranger, none of this would’ve happened. You’d have told me as soon as I was home. Everything happened because it was him. Everything did snowball like you said… It snowballed from him. Hate him. Not yourself.”
“I could’ve told you it was a stranger though… I thought about it… I almost… I should’ve lied to you.”
I snorted at her. “You want me to be pissed that you didn’t lie to me?”
“I don’t… I don’t know… I made… I screwed up a lot…” I had too. I just couldn’t remember most of my mistakes names.
“You did everything you could… You lived the life you had to, not the life you wanted… Seriously Sookie, you’ve felt guilty long enough. We’re together now and that’s what matters. We’re going to be fine.”
“How… How… how are you still so positive?”
“You know how I love being right. I knew you were alive. I knew you had a good reason to stay away for so long. This isn’t optimism. This is me being cocky.”
She snorted. “This is you being full of shit.”
I chuckled at her and leaned back to get comfortable. “You got lost, but you’re home now. I’m happy you’re safe. I can look forward to getting to know our son… We learned a long time ago to work with what we had available to us. This isn’t any different. Being together should make it easier.”
I was almost surprised when she curled into me… not by the action but by how comfortable it was. Like it hadn’t been ages since she’d done it. “I’m allowed to be mad at myself.”
“I can think of few things I wish I’d done differently too. Anyone who claims to not have any regrets is lying. I’m convinced of it.”
“Like what… Wait… no, you don’t owe me…”
I cut her off. I’d never denied her before. “Before Sookie, With Sookie or After Sookie?”
She actually giggled. “With Sookie, I guess.”
“I would have had the balls to just say that I didn’t feel right about you working at Rafters instead of taking the job there so I could look after you. Avoiding that argument wasn’t worth what happened.”
“You know I would’ve kept the job anyway. I knew everything back then… How about After?”
“I wouldn’t have wasted time thinking I could move on.”
She sniffled and her voice wavered. “Before?”
“I’d have tracked you down freshman year.”
Her arm squeezed my ribs. “You know why I’m so mad at myself?”
“Because… It took me this long to realize I needed this… you.”