I felt like I owed it to her. After the way her mother had made such a scene at Jason’s wedding, I felt like she should see that I really did know what the fuck she’d been dealing with…
It was a given that there were selfish reasons involved, but when I found out that one of my cousins was in jail for non-payment of child support, I offered to ‘housesit’ so that I wouldn’t have to stay with my parents who were unfortunately cohabitating again.
It gave me an excuse to have Sookie to myself for part of summer break.
The plan was to spend a week in Sookie’s hometown and a week in mine. We were going to work the rest of it. If we left for 3 months, Andre would’ve had to replace us and that wasn’t a gig either of us wanted to risk. Even though keeping our jobs meant that we had to spend our summers bouncing from local friend to local friend so that we wouldn’t wear out our welcome since we couldn’t stay in our dorms and that we had to get a storage unit for our stuff… Sookie and I both knew we had a good thing going… and it wasn’t just our jobs.
Our first visit was Sookie’s hometown…
When Alcide, who had a family he liked, left school for the summer, we rode with him since it was only an hour away from Bon Temps and he was loaning us his car for the summer. A fucking prince among men. His parents had multiple cars and didn’t blink when he offered because he knew he wouldn’t be hurting for wheels. He also knew we’d be fucked if we tried getting all over town on our bikes when we were staying with friends who were scattered all over the area.
One day driving there and one day driving back left us with 5 days… all five days were spent with Alcide at his family’s home. His big, loud, obnoxious family of 7. Big, loud, obnoxious, hyperactive… and fun. The mysterious reason for his lack of boundaries and ADD had been discovered. He was the oldest of 5 kids… Thankfully his room was over a 2 car garage and shared with his brother who was almost always asleep or out with friends. The room was out of the flow of traffic and chaos his siblings (ages 12-19) created. There was bickering, plenty of it, but they liked each other… unless you consider the friction caused by both of Alcide’s sisters flirting with me (and ‘accidentally’ walking in on me in the shower) and the oldest of Alcide’s brothers copping a feel whenever he was in arm’s reach of Sookie. The stalking and groping finally ended when Alcide’s mother gave me and Alcide permission to kill his brothers for touching Sookie and gave Sookie permission to Nair the sisters for being creepy… She’d done it over dinner; a meatloaf so big that it had been coined ‘the Hindenburg’.
We took two short trips out to Bon Temps. Alcide was in tow both times. Once was a morning visit to the nursing home Sookie’s grandmother and great uncle had been locked in. They were a ‘burden’ to her mother since they needed to be taken care of. She took a batch of Jason’s wedding pictures to show her Gran and Uncle Bartlett… I wasn’t sure if either of them knew who Sookie was. Neither of them were coherent. All in all, Sookie didn’t seem too upset… They’d been like that for years so it was just something she was used to. We stopped for lunch at the diner that Sookie used to work at… The owner was a nice guy. The second he saw Sookie walk in, he tackled her for a bear hug and when she asked for our tab, he told her to save her money for books so that she wouldn’t need to come back…
There was also an evening visit to join some of her friends from high school to catch up. I couldn’t remember their names with a gun to my head… Of the 8 girls who’d made an appearance, the only ones who weren’t visibly pregnant were sharing tips about when they had been, some of them more than once. Her first boyfriend was there… He was the clerk, rather- shoe jockey at the bowling alley we met at. As easy as it would be to judge him for being a statutory rapist, he actually was a nice guy when you could get past how simple he was. It didn’t keep Alcide from mentioning (loud enough for half of the bowling alley to hear) that ‘once all those preggos pop’ Hoyt would have a lot more dating options since he liked ‘em young… he wasn’t talking about the mothers. Sookie slapped him while I laughed my ass off.
We didn’t visit her mother even though Calvin mentioned she was sick. We didn’t visit her father even though we passed the exit to the jail… Sookie visited old friends and her dying grandmother…
Both stops depressed her and they’d been the ones she wanted to make so I wasn’t about to push her to see anyone else.
Over the next few weeks, we enjoyed a couple of windfalls. Chow and his family went on vacation which not only gave us Chow’s apartment over the restaurant to stay in, but it gave us 2 free meals a day because his mother insisted… Sookie and I were ‘tu skeeny’.
My old roommate Bernard (aka ‘Curly’ because the mother fucker was so hairy he could’ve been the missing link) didn’t mind letting both of us stay with him and his ancient ‘girl’friend. For a whole week we stayed in the guest room at their house.
I crashed on Sam’s couch more often than not, and Sookie stayed with Blin when she wasn’t taking one of the three overnight trips to Savannah to visit Jason between deployments. We only really had any alone time in the bookstore before and after hours.
Not having any time with Sookie made me want to go ‘home’. It was the first time I wanted to be in that piss-ant town in all my life. With only 3 weeks left of summer, I was dying for the vacation part to start.
Our first stop was my grandparents’ house. Not only did I want to see them, but they had the key to Stan’s ‘palace’.
Once greetings were out of the way, my grandfather went back to watching TV… so it was pretty much like Christmas. He wasn’t shitty. His theory was that talking wasn’t as important as listening… and that Grandma did enough talking for half the town. I almost hated that my grandparents were so ‘normal’. They had 7 kids. They were a blue collar family and most of their kids grew up to do be the same… only 2 of them were worthless. One was my father, the other was his twin brother. The babies of the family grew up to be the kings of the trailer park. My uncle had killed himself with an overdose when I was too young to remember him and orphaned 3 kids that he’d fathered in high school who didn’t grow up to be much better than him. Jail and/or welfare.
My grandmother made a big dinner just because of our visit. She talked Sookie’s ear off about me and the rest of the family while she pulled out album after album. There were plenty of pictures of me, but none of them were taken by my parents. I wasn’t sure if they’d ever owned a camera. Grandma offered to let us stay with them so that she could put some meat on our bones, but since they were old fashioned, we would’ve had to sleep separately and I’d had more than enough of that.
When we pulled up to Stan’s trailer, every resident of the motor court looked at Alcide’s Camaro like they were seeing a UFO. Arming Alcide’s after-market Viper alarm didn’t really give me any sense of security. I had a strong feeling that the gawkers weren’t staring because the car was sexy, but because one of the rims could pay their rent.
Opening the door to the trailer released a wave of bleach and lemons strong enough to choke on.
There wasn’t a single thing out of place and the fridge was empty except for a case of Dew, a casserole dish full of creamed chipped beef and a fresh loaf of bread.
There was a note on the counter though…
“You owe me, Shortie.
Stan would be more comfortable in a septic tank than a jail cell.
This place could gag a maggot yesterday.
Repay me by bringing your Sookie to my house for lunch tomorrow.
Sookie laughed when I showed it to her and asked me why I’d ever cut loose such an attentive gull-fween.
The only time Sookie and I had been alone together privately all summer had been when Chow was in Beijing. Those 8 days had only been enough time to piss me off that it didn’t happen more often. During the school year, we’d gotten spoiled. Arlene spent Wednesday nights locked in a church, so we spent the night in her dorm together. Gerald had found himself a Magic: The Gathering club that met on Friday nights… which sometimes bought us a whole weekend alone in my dorm.
Sookie and I didn’t waste any time. We made sure the door was locked and dumped our bag out to make finding the rubbers easier. The wall. The couch. The counter. The table. One chair didn’t survive, but it was ugly anyway…
We never made it to the bed. The two of us crashed in the floor of the living room and made a bed out of the sofa cushion and old afghan we could reach when our legs finally quit on us.
No squeaky antique bed to give us away if we so much as farted. No time constraints because so-and-so was due back soon. No clothes getting in the way during a quickie.
We wouldn’t have cared if we were in a suite at the Ritz fucking Carlton because we were finally alone.
(Me + Sookie)Trojans = happy campers
When we woke up the next day to a knockdown, drag out fight between neighbors that was so loud we thought it was inside Stan’s trailer, the clock gave us a little panic attack… it was 12:45 and Pam’s house was half an hour away.
Sookie nominated me to get the first shower since she could shower while I shaved and I could drive while she did her makeup.
She was waiting to get in when I stepped out of the tub. She waited for me to dry my hands before she gave it to me, but she’d made a piece of toast with the chipped beef goo for me to eat on the go. Apparently, just because we were supposed to be there at 1:30 didn’t mean that was when lunch was going out. It would’ve been rude to stand around with our stomachs growling when Pam went to the trouble of making breakfast for us.
She hemmed and hawed on fast forward between sundress choices… then about which sandals to wear with the yellow dress. I couldn’t help but be amused. I’d never seen her care before. I was wearing my ‘good’ wife beater, so it wasn’t like she thought we were having high tea.
We pulled into Pam’s driveway at 1:34 and Sookie promptly began freaking out. The house was annoyingly mundane, but it was probably worth both trailer parks we’d grown up in combined.
“Thanks to her stapled stomach, Pam had enough skin removed to make a leather sofa. It helped her land a husband who owns 4 Subways and settle into a boring and pretentious life that she hates. She grew up wearing thrift store clothes just like us. Just be yourself.”
She growled at me when I got out of the car too fast for her to whine about being nervous. If she could handle her mom, she could handle Pam. I had my fingers crossed anyway.
We didn’t bother with the front door. I held Sookie’s hand and followed the sound of spoiled, screeching midgets around the side of the house to the back yard. My poor cousin-in-law Andy was sweating over the grill in late July hell while one of Pam’s children tried to perform brain surgery on the other with a crayon via the ear canal on the deck. Lovely children.
I was introducing Sookie to Pam’s sad-sack husband and the children that Hollywood would develop a horror franchise about when Pam came out to the deck.
“Shortie! You didn’t tell anyone that your girlfriend had a kid… Oh well, at least Coco and Yves have someone to play with.” The catty side of Pam decided to make a showing because of how small Sookie was.
I grabbed Sookie’s hand as I returned fire. “Holy shit! Pam! You’re HUGE! Are you alright? Have you seen a doctor?”
She narrowed her eyes at me. “I’m 8 months pregnant, you idiot.” Or hiding a keg of beer.
“A… Don’t be a jerk.”
“I’m not. Is it triplets?” Twins were the family ‘curse’ since my grandparents had two sets and 5 of their children did too… Triplets was the family scare tactic. Saying ‘triplet’ to a pregnant Northman could get a person stabbed.
“It’s. ONE. Boy.”
I laughed at her. “Are you craving peanuts? Have you decided on a name? I think Babar would be good.”
“I’m going to kick your ass…”
“You’re in a mu-mu. It looks like a circus tent.”
“It’s not a mu-mu. It’s a maternity dress.”
Somehow she managed to scowl and pout at the same time. “I can’t help it.”
“Neither can Sookie. Stop being a bitch about not knowing what your feet look like again.”
She raised an eyebrow like she was expecting it to scare me into retreating. “I invited you to lunch. That means food. Is she going to be alright if she sees people chewing?”
While Sookie giggled, I told Pam that she’d be fine… and when we started eating, Pam watched Sookie devour 2 racks of ribs, ½ a slab at a time… plus double portions of the sides.
Pam pretended to have a nice bone in her body until Sookie leaned back in her chair and thanked Andy by patting his knee and calling him ‘King of the Coals’.
“The bathroom is through the kitchen.”
Sookie raised an eyebrow. “Bulimia jokes, huh?” She was just as ‘amused’ as I was. She already heard that shit often enough.
Pam sneered. “All in good fun.”
“Then I’m going to guess 3 kids in 5 years is a defensive tactic… You can get away with saying whatever you want because no matter how much you need it, no one would slap the bitch out of your mouth when you’re knocked up, right? All in good fun, of course.” Andy started laughing behind his hand, like it was going to hide that his whole body was shaking.
Pam stared at Sookie with a pitch in her eyebrow before turning to me. “She has a mouth on her.”
“Tiny, yes. Delicate, not even close.”
“I think I like her, Shortie.”
I rolled my eyes. “Glad you approve.”
“Just knock her up after you graduate. I want to see her with an extra 20 pounds on her.”
“I’ll get right on that.” We hadn’t been together for a whole year yet. Sure. Let’s jump the gun and plan kids just to make Pam feel better.
Sookie smirked in my direction. “As long as we can name one Wright.”
Pam jeered, “Wright? What kind of name is Wright?”
“You gave your kids toy poodle names.” She blew a raspberry at Pam.
“Coco and Yves aren’t…” It seemed like saying the names made Pam realize that she should’ve just gotten puppies instead. She changed her mind about defending her name choices. “What is Wright? Is that a family name?”
Sookie grinned. “No. Just a personal idol… Wright and… Maybe Rossi.”
I cleared my throat while I played along. “Gehry.”
Sookie’s eyes lit up. “Oooh. Yeah. Good one. How about Price?”
“Gehry, Wright, then Rossi. Price lacked imagination… I guess that leaves out girls.”
“Ummmm… Lahauri? Barma?” Ew. Not the architects, the idea of saddling any kid with a name like Lahauri or Barma.
I repeated, “I guess that leaves out girls.”
She giggled, “I know, right?”
“The only remotely feminine names I can think of are…” I make a gagging noise because I couldn’t think of a fitting word… English architects known for bland municipal buildings that don’t exist anymore.
Sookie threw her head back and laughed. “Yep. Boys it is as long as you promise to not let the testosterone smother me.”
“How could that happen?”
“You and Alcide with 3 boys to train. I’d be a goner.”
“Alcide will have 15 of his own kids to train.”
“No. Alcide will have 15 child support payments to make. He can’t stay with a girl long enough to settle down. Hell, he wavers between Coke and Pepsi.”
Pam wedged her way back into the conversation. “When’s the wedding?” I would’ve had an idea if I had the balls to have brought it up yet. Thanks Pam.
“You two just disappeared into your own little bubble for a minute to talk about giving atrocious names to hypothetical offspring. When’s the wedding?”
Sookie giggled and shook her head to answer; meanwhile, I ‘accidently’ stepped on my nosy cousin’s foot under the table. “No rush. We have other things to do before we worry about that stuff.”
Pam raised her eyebrow again. “I thought girls who went to college were just shopping for husbands.”
“I know those girls. My roommate is one of them, but I have everything I need right now and a few perks. I’m good.”
Pam nodded her approval and called Sookie an ‘interesting little creature’… She acted like Sookie had passed some sort of test… Because someone could have an ulterior motive for considering marrying into the Northman clan. Any woman who became a Northman had very few guarantees. Stretch marks, the police being invited to Christmas dinner, and learning to be financially creative because even steady construction work depends on mother nature.
We stayed long enough for dessert and for Sookie to see what happened when Coco and Yves needed a nap… Sookie informed me with a straight face that she was going to will herself to have only boys after watching Andy pry a handful of Pam’s hair out of Yves’s sticky fist. Then again, she wasn’t thrilled about the way Coco dumped strawberry shortcake in her lap either.
The big red stain on the front of her sundress just pissed her off all the more when she remembered that we needed to go to the grocery store on the way back to Stan’s trailer. She ended up finding one of Alcide’s T-shirts in the trunk and changed into that, hoping that people would just assume it was a bathing suit cover. Since the shirt barely covered her ass, any and all reaching and bending was left for me to do. I didn’t mind, especially since it gave her the excuse to either goose me or tweek my nipple every few minutes… Like I usually did to her. She decided that turnabout was foreplay.
I didn’t let Sookie get the groceries put away before I started messing with her…
She pretended to be determined to get done while I got in her way… By the time the last of the food was stored, I’d peeled her ‘cover’ off and attached myself to her back. She giggled and called me oversexed while I chewed on her neck and shoulders, but she was making it a point to rub herself against my dick in every way possible.
We started on the counter that night… but we did eventually make our way through the trailer one surface at a time, including a few in the bathroom until we made it to the bed.
It was almost midnight when she dragged me out of the room on rubbery legs so that we could eat the dinner I wasn’t interested in.
We ended up cuddled on the couch under the convenient afghan to watch Saturday Night Live while we ate… I can’t say that I minded. Sleeping on one of our twin sized beds in our dorms had gotten us used to being close… Even if we’d gone back to the full size bed in the bedroom, we would’ve slept huddled together like we had in the king suite in Savannah.
I don’t think Sookie got to see much more of the show than I did before we passed out.
I was aware that I’d been slapped in the chest before I let it sink in that Sookie yelled out.
I rolled over and pulled her closer. “Bad dream?” She had them once in a while, bad enough to wake her up, but not bad enough to talk about. I always assumed that it was related to the abuse she got growing up, so I didn’t push.
She nuzzled into my shoulder and breathed, “There’s a man by the window.”
“The trailers are too close, Sookie. That’s all.”
She hissed, “Inside.”
She whimpered, “He’s watching us.”
I started to roll over, pissed that the only weapons I could think of were the dull steak knives in the kitchen or the asp Alcide kept under the driver seat… Sookie and I were both nude and I was sure we were being robbed because Alcide’s car suggested we’d have cash or drugs…
I probably would’ve been less annoyed if we had been getting robbed.
In the light from the test signal on the TV, my father was leaning against the wall and before I opened my mouth to say anything, I could smell him. Why wouldn’t he be drunk? It was 5am. Isn’t everyone still hammered and roaming the streets 3 hours after last call?
I rolled back to Sookie to cover her with my body since the afghan was barely long enough to cover our legs. “Fucking asshole. Is it too much to ask for you to knock on a goddamn door?”
“You watch your mouth, boy.”
“Which part did you have a problem with, you pickled dickhead? Being called an asshole or being reminded that you forgot the goddamn manners Grandma taught you?”
“Don’t talk to me like that. I’m yer father.”
“If you say so. Get out.”
“I’m not going anywhere.”
“Then run your mouth until you realize I give two fucks for your opinion. Your call.”
“Tonya called me… She said you visited Gandma and Pam.”
“Even a broken clock is right twice a day. Do you have a fucking point?”
“Why didn’t you come see me and yer mom?”
“I was planning on it, but I was procrastinating because I don’t want to see you.”
“Why? Afraid we’d embarrass you in front of yer girlfriend there?”
“No. I knew you would. Go the fuck home. We’ll be by later.”
“Or you’ll hit the road to avoid your family. You know, like you did with college.”
“And the only thing you miss about me is the paycheck I used to get from Uncle Bert. Go home.”
“That’s not true. Why do you have to be such an asshole?”
“Because I’ve claimed more than you on my taxes since I started working. I’m getting uppity.”
“Does it matter? It’s not like either one of you would bother making yourselves or the trailer presentable.”
“You think we should fancy ourselves up for your twig there?”
“Yes. I do. I think that in a perfect world, my parents should do the fucking dishes and wear clean clothes when their son comes back from college and introduces them to his girlfriend. But… Since you decided to show up drunk, in the middle of the night, without knocking and stood there like some kind of pervert, I think that maybe you’ve already blown your shot at making a good first impression.”
“She’s too skinny, but I’d fuck her.”
Sookie had to grab my arms so I wouldn’t leave her to go beat the shit out of my father.
He slammed the door behind himself when he left and yelled, “Great tits though!”
She let go of my arms to grab my face. “Not worth it.”
“I am skinny.”
“I have great tits too.”
I snorted out a chuckle. “Yeah, you do.”
“Would you fuck me?”
“Then let him go sleep it off somewhere. You knew he’d be an asshole. We’ll go see them tomorrow afternoon and then it’s over with.”
“I don’t really want to.”
“That’s not fair. You’re mom didn’t have the chance to insult me yet.”
“That’s what I’m worried about.”
“I’m not. I can take it. Just don’t get yourself in trouble trying to stick up for me. I’d hate that.”
It took Sookie a while to talk me down enough to go back to sleep that night. I didn’t want to go to visit my parents, but I knew that if I didn’t they’d turn up anyway.
When we got to their trailer, we knocked. Yep. Imagine that. Knocking on a door. Go figure.
The door was answered by a man I didn’t recognize, wearing nothing but a pair of tightie-whities, complete with skid mark. The trailer didn’t have AC but it was sealed up tight enough that the stink of beer and sweat spilled out while ‘Bud’ explained that my parents were still ‘sleeping it off’ at 6pm.
I wasn’t surprised, but I was embarrassed as hell. When we got back to Stan’s place, we made dinner together and watched Hooper on Stan’s old VCR…
We visited my grandparents a couple more times, but other than that, we didn’t leave the trailer again until we left town. My mother never bothered to stop by and my father didn’t show his face again. All I could figure was that maybe they were too ashamed of themselves, but they were probably just drunk enough to forget all about my visit.
Driving back to Shreveport to get Alcide two weeks later was much more fun. Sookie joked that we’d been missing our third Musketeer all summer. I’d missed the noisy clown too, but going to get him was more like the last thing we had to do before things could go back to normal for us. We’d be back in our dorms. We’d be back to our schedules. We’d be back to the student union and our study group. Classes, projects, studying, working, hanging out with people we liked…
Alcide’s family greeted us with open arms again and when we got back to school, our dorm assignments had been changed. Alcide and I had been moved to rooms next to each other and we’d both gotten new roommates. His was alright, a little Revenge of the Nerds, but alright. Mine was dirty. Seriously, he stunk. He stunk and he was usually tweeked out on something him and his chem major friends cooked up. Sookie was still with Arlene. Same room, different Arlene. She’d met a new guy over the summer and lo and behold… he was her new guru. As annoying as it was to be told what color my aura was every time I saw her, she’d become ‘enlightened to the depth of physical connections’. That meant that she’d gotten laid over the summer and she stopped praying for Sookie and I every time we cussed or kissed thanks to her ‘journey to find her soul’. Whatever. She finally stopped being an uptight twat. That was the important part.
It took going ‘home’ for me to realize that it wasn’t my home anymore. It was mostly Sookie. I’d been happy at school all through freshman year, but I was enjoying the freedom of being away from my family.
But once I met Sookie, it was easier to think about what was ahead. It was easier to ignore what I put behind me when I took the Greyhound to get the fuck out of the quicksand I’d grown up in.
I hadn’t gone back ‘home’ since I went with Sookie. I hadn’t even entered the state since then.
Pathetic as it was, I’d made my life with Sookie whether she was physically with me or not. I was happier with her memory than I would’ve been with my family…
I woke up to the sound of Sookie snickering.
We were still propped up against my headboard together.
Morning was right, but barely. When I noticed how bright my room was, I looked at the clock. We’d slept until after 11. “Good morning.”
“We crashed.” We might’ve crashed, but we hadn’t fallen apart. Our arms were still around one another.
“We crashed hard.”
“Last night, well, this morning… You have every right to be an asshole… I expected you to be, at least in part…”
“There’s no point in that though.”
She smiled and kissed my cheek. “Like I said, thank you. I’m lucky you think of it like that.”
“Do that again.”
She didn’t take a fraction of a second before she kissed my cheek again.
“I meant smile… I missed your smile.”
When she did, the corners of her eyes wrinkled more than they used to and her laugh lines were deeper… It was 16 years since I’d seen her smile like that. It was bittersweet that I’d waited so long, but seeing the apple of her cheeks, knowing she could still smile, was all the therapy I needed.
Without thinking, just being lost in the life and light of her features, I kissed her. As soon as our lips touched, I started to worry… Too soon? Too impulsive? Too presumptuous? Too eager?
Her leg twitched against mine and I started trying to figure out if she had stopped herself from moving away or getting closer. Granted, I hadn’t jumped headlong into tonsil diving, far from, but just feeling her lips against mine again gave me the notion.
I pulled back, hoping to minimize how awkward I could’ve just made everything and she looked just as confused as I felt as she stared back at me.
She wasn’t moving, trying to get away, trying to scramble for something to say… trying to tell me that it shouldn’t happen again.
The simple fact that she didn’t seem upset made the temptation to kiss her again that much stronger…
Oddly, we might’ve been the first parents in history to be relieved when a kid walked in on them in bed together. Sort of.
Our pensive do/don’t moment was interrupted by Eric clearing his throat. “You’ve got to be freakin’ kidding me. Y’all slept together last night?”
I had to think fast because Sookie was already blushing. “Yeah, well… She was supposed to leave cash on the bedside table and slip out before dawn, but I assumed she knew that.”
Sookie giggled and sat up after slapping my ribs, but Eric stared at us completely unamused. Humorless…
I started wiping the sleep from my eyes and tried again. “We fell asleep talking. What’s up?”
“Alcide sent me to wake you up. He wants to get to the gym because his ex is letting him get his kid so Mom can meet her.” Without another word, he walked out.
Sookie hissed, “What I wouldn’t give to be a mind reader with that boy… You don’t think… he thinks… we…”
I shook my head, just as unsure about what was bothering Eric as she was. “You’re in your robe and gown. I’m wearing pajama pants. We were on top of the covers…”
“Being dressed didn’t used to stop us.”
I smirked just remembering. “He doesn’t know that though. Are we alright?”
“Yeah… we should talk later though. God only knows what he thinks we’re doing right now.”
When I got downstairs, Alcide was in the kitchen. Coffee, a newspaper and a bag of McMuffins. How he was able to get through standard door frames was beyond me. “What’s up with Junior?” Oh fuck.
“What did he do?”
“He came back downstairs and said he’d be waiting in the car. Looked constipated.”
“Shit. Sookie was in bed with me when he came to wake me up…”
“No shit!? Damn! Y’all just jumped right back in the ole saddle, huh?”
“It wasn’t like that. We fell asleep talking last night. We were both dressed and on top of the covers.”
“Bullshit. Why’d he have his panties in a wad over that?”
“We don’t know.”
“Give her the ring yet?” Asshole. He wasn’t supposed to know about it. He was taking me away from a pity party to go to a club and throwing my clothes at me. Since I lived alone, my sock drawer should’ve been more secure.
“Alcide… get in the fucking car.”
“Get in the car. I have enough to deal with without you ragging on me for buying an engagement ring. How many have you bought?”
“Slut. Get in the damn car.”
He scowled like he thought it scared me as he got up. “Fine. I might owe you a new coffee pot…” He yelled over his shoulder, “HEY CHUNK! Coffee pot’s all set up! McMuffins are calling!”
I looked on the way out… He’d filled the coffee filter with sugar and the sugar bowl with coffee. Smart ass.
She’d love it.
Eric didn’t say a single word in the car even though Alcide and I tried to joke around with him.
When we got to the gym, he made a bee-line for the locker room without flirting with the receptionist. Alcide and I walked past the bank of lockers where he was changing, but when we looked for him when we were done, we couldn’t find him.
He wasn’t warming up. He wasn’t at the free weights. He wasn’t on the machines. He wasn’t creeping around the classrooms full of ‘bouncing, stepping, yoga, spandex-clad, live action fitness porn’ like he had before either.
While I was checking the steam room and sauna, Alcide came to get me because he’d found him…
We stood at the end of the pool and watched him swim no less than 20 laps while a group of girls enjoyed the show. I don’t think he noticed a single one of us though.
Alcide snorted. “You sure his father isn’t a dolphin?”
“He gets quiet sometimes, but not like this.”
“Ooooh, I wonder where he could get that from.”
“That’s not very helpful, asswipe.”
“Well unless you tell me what he really walked in on, I’m not wasting my fucking time guessing.” Maybe as much as a kiss… but it wasn’t anything steamy or gratuitous…
“I told you what he walked in on. Sookie and I fell asleep talking. We were just waking up. She came to my room to talk about me spoiling him.”
“What, did she find out how much the gym membership costs?”
“No. Shit. Not yet… But… this isn’t spoiling him, is it? We’ve had a membership here since it opened.”
“It’s probably the most expensive one in the state, but it’s not spoiling him. Not really. Was she upset about the party?”
“No… Actually she told me that she wants me to spoil him because I missed so much stuff early on. She said the party would help him get some closure with his old friends and even gave me the go ahead for getting him a car for his birthday.”
“Yeah? New Vette like Dad?”
“Whatever the fuck he wants.”
“Don’t tell him that. You’d have to scrape Sookie off the ceiling if he opts for a Jag or a…”
“Fuck shopping for his wheels… for now. Please. How was he before he came upstairs?”
“Fine. He was joking around and feeding his fish. We made fun of Compton’s brain dead goon-child… She asked him why he wasn’t cutting the grass… She’s got a thing for him, huh? Isn’t she like 20-some…”
“Captain ADD, could we focus?”
“Right. Junior… You think he’s pissed that you and Sookie are getting along? You are getting along, right?”
“We’re getting along really well. Better than I thought we would. I thought I’d be pissed. I was until we got to Jackson and she explained what she’s been through. I don’t think I can be mad at her… She fucking hates herself enough for a South American revolution as it is.”
“You thinking about hooking back up with her?”
“I don’t know…”
“The kid. He’s over 25 laps now. How many is safe?”
He shrugged. “Do I look like Flipper? What the fuck do I know?”
“Fat lot of fucking help you’ve been.”
“I have an 8 year old girl who’s always known who the fuck her father is. When she gets upset, she breaks shit and screams until the neighbors know why…”
I snorted at him. “Are you trying to figure out where she gets that from?”
“No. She gets it from her mother. I don’t break shit. I’m the guy that has to replace it all… I’m sayin’ this isn’t the same thing. Little girl versus man child. I got nothin’… Dinner went alright too, right?”
“Yeah. More than ok, actually. Once I calmed down from worrying about what the stress of moving could do to her, we sat around and joked through dessert. Eric seemed to eat it up. He’d never heard stories about when we were together… I don’t want him to be like this until counseling.”
“He’s in therapy?”
“Not yet. We’re going to a family session on Tuesday.”
He started shaking his head and nudged my shoulder. “Let’s go get our workout out of the way.”
“I’m not even in the mood…”
“Punching bag. Let’s go.”
“What? Why?” The punching bag was usually reserved for when we were fuck-shit-up pissed and he was usually the one doing the punching and because of women… My punching bag time usually happened after mother’s day… when all the stores and commercials were geared towards Graduations. That wasn’t a long jump. The sight of caps and gowns put me in a shitty mood for a long time.
“I think I know what’s wrong with the boy.”
“He missed out on having a father his whole life… finally meets the guy and you didn’t demand a DNA test or act like being a ‘dad’ was an accusation… You’re pissed about time you missed, not about if your baby momma is going to want back child support… his mom and dad get together and cops don’t get called. He gets a happy little stroll down memory lane instead… y’all even own that there’s a lot he might need help dealing with and are willing to go to counseling to help him out… and you’re comfortable enough around each other to fall asleep together after all the shit that’s gone on… I don’t know about him, but I’D BE PISSED about how normal life could’ve been. Let the kid swim. You need to punch something.”
Everything from my hands to my shoulders hurt when we got in the car to leave… I could barely lift them to wash my hair before we left. The ache would get worse. It always did.
The ride back to the house was too quiet. I still wanted to try to get Eric to talk…
He’d stayed in the pool until Alcide and I were done using the weights… then he used the weights while I imagined Barry’s face on the punching bag. It seemed like he was avoiding conversation altogether. And I hated it. I hated that I didn’t have any clue of how to calm him down and I hated that I wouldn’t be able to give Sookie any answers.
Eric went around the side of the house… he had more avoiding conversation to do apparently.
Alcide was shaking his head and telling me he wished he could help and went straight to the fridge for a drink.
He tossed a bottle of water to me and yelled for Sookie…
But she didn’t answer.
It only took Alcide a few steps to notice her through the glass panels.
She was laid out on her back and seemingly dead to the world on a towel out in the middle of the back yard in a bikini.
Alcide gave me a thud in my chest and practically sang, “I think she did that on purpose.”
He started sliding the panel open slowly at first, but the noise of a nearby lawnmower would’ve covered the sound. I whispered anyway, “Alcide, don’t you think I have other shit to be thinking about?”
He rolled his eyes at me. “And you can go right back to trying to figure things out when we’re done getting our asses kicked.”
“I’m not sure I can do it without dropping her.”
“If you drop her… I’ll punch you right in that pretty face of yours.”
“I’m more worried about dropping her than having my face caved in.”
He nodded. “Good. It’s settled then. You won’t drop her. Let’s move. It’ll be fun.”
As we quietly made our way to Sookie, it occurred to me that Alcide and I had the exact same conversation the first time we caught Sookie tanning.
Alcide took the corners of her towel by her head and I took the corners by her feet…
Instead of giving ourselves away by talking, Alcide nodded his head… the third time we yanked the towel up and sent her into the air.
From somewhere behind me, I could barely hear Eric yell out ‘what the fuck?’ over the way Sookie was squealing.
We sent her up 4 or 5 times, catching her in the towel and heaving her up again. She cackled and called us ‘sons of bitches’ until we set her down when she threatened to spray Alcide with McMuffins.
As soon as her towel touched the ground, Alcide and I ran… like the cowardly mother fuckers we always had been… The working theory was that she’d only beat the shit out of one of us. It had always worked out before…
What Alcide didn’t know, was that whenever she caught up to me first, I got laid. He’s the one that got beaten to a pulp.
I’m not sure where the fuck he went, but I ended up behind the door to the bedroom Alcide spent the night in.
It was hard to not give myself away laughing as she made her way through the house.
Singing, “Come out, come out, wherever you are…”
Shower doors sliding…
“Chicken shits. I can’t believe y’all are scared of me…”
Bare feet on the floor padding ‘dangerously’ close…
“Assholes… Do you know what I’m going to do when I catch up to you…?”
Closer and closer…
She finally got to Alcide’s room and nudged the door on her way in because I left it half open. When she came into view, she had her back to me… If I stood there and watched her, I’d have laughed at the way she was sneaking around the room and gotten the shit kicked out of me. I decided on plan B… sneaking up on her… and still getting the shit kicked out of me. I was busted either way.
I stepped away from the wall and when I put my hands on her shoulders, I said, “WHATCHA DOIN’!?”
She spun around and when she did she started swatting my chest as she laughed. “You jerk! That’s so not cool!” She wasn’t hitting me as hard as she could’ve but every blow hurt more because of my time with the punching bag and I backed up to the wall reflexively.
“Alcide’s idea! Mercy! Mercy!”
I slid down the wall, just as a joke, and that’s when I saw it… Seeing it made me want to get back to the gym to spend more time with the ‘Barry bag’. When I dropped my arms so that I could get a better look, Sookie’s hand connected with my nose, but I barely noticed other than the way she was apologizing.
She’d grabbed my face to inspect it, but… I couldn’t help myself… I reached out and ran my fingers along the scar…
It was barely off color after all this time, but it was still raised slightly… I might’ve noticed outside if it weren’t for the horsing around we were doing, but I think her bikini had been covering it because she was resting.
“Was something wrong? Why…?”
It hadn’t even occurred to her that I wasn’t thinking about my nose. She had to look down… to her it was an old scar, something she didn’t think about anymore. She put her hand over mine, but not to stop me. “I’d been in labor for a long time. Things weren’t moving along. That’s all.”
She sighed, “31 hours before they started the c-section… I complained about being hungry more than anything else. They wouldn’t let me eat because they were afraid I’d get sick.” I would’ve laughed at her if I’d been there… and been bullied into sneaking something to her.
“How big was he?”
“8 pounds 3 ounces… 22 inches long… Eric?”
I didn’t care.
I couldn’t put the words together. My mouth stopped working…
Sookie hadn’t just waited in torment for months, not knowing who Eric’s father was… she hadn’t just raised him on her own because she’d been broken… she suffered through labor and a c-section alone.
I don’t know why it hadn’t occurred to me before. Over the week that I’d spent alone with Eric, I’d started getting to know him and the more I learned, the more proud I was of her for managing to raise our son alone while establishing herself in Jackson. I thought I’d covered all the scenarios in my mind… I’d pictured her being the only one to ever cook dinner. The only one to ever help with homework. The only one to ever tend to him when he was sick. The only one who paced the waiting room when he’d had his tonsils and adenoids removed… and three sets of tubes put in his ears. The only one to ever be in the stands to cheer him on. The only one to ever punish him. But I’d let myself gloss over so much.
She didn’t call anyone until it was over…
She didn’t have any help recovering…
She didn’t have help with late night feedings…
She willed herself through what I’d heard countless horror stories about from women who’d passed through my life… cousins, co-workers, friends… even Alcide’s wife…
She willed herself through doing everything all alone…
She could’ve called me… By the time he was born, I wouldn’t have cared who raped her… even if she was scared that I’d encourage her to keep Barry’s baby… once she looked at him, all it would’ve taken is a phone call. I’d have dropped everything.
That mother fucker took her ability to trust with him when he left her on our apartment floor.
She’d never had a reason to trust her family so it was amazing that she trusted anyone after what they put her through…
Barry killed the trust she had in herself… me… Alcide…
Sookie pulled away from me and went to the bathroom, coming back with a washrag and kneeling between my legs. She cried while she dabbed my nose, but I couldn’t take my eyes off of her stomach. She’d adjusted her bathing suit while she was out of view, but that scar couldn’t be unseen. It was like I could see it through the fabric.
“You’re stronger than you gave yourself credit for.”
She whimpered, “Eric, don’t…”
“How many times did you think about calling me? While you were in labor?”
She sniffled. “The whole time.”
“I understand why you left. I understand everything… but… the way your therapist scared you… I just… You’d have called me. Wouldn’t you? When you saw him? If he hadn’t planted that seed, that I’d be angry or cruel?”
I finally looked at her face only to see contorted in pain. Flushed and wet. “I think so… I had to make myself stop thinking about it a long time ago, but I think I’d have called you. I wanted you there. I…”
“We only would’ve lost 8 months.”
“Would you have forgiven me then?”
“Maybe not before we talked… before I knew why. We’re doing alright at the moment though, right? It only took me a few hours to get my head around things.”
She nodded and rested on her knees. “I hate hindsight.”
I nodded. “It’s a bitch, isn’t it?”
She stared at me for a long time… I couldn’t decide how to move on, how to recover from my melancholy… I knew we needed to. I knew wallowing wasn’t going to do either of us any good. She’d go back to feeling guilty and I’d go back to being depressed about shit I couldn’t change.
“Did you talk to Eric?” Thank God she managed to come up with something else to talk about.
“No. He didn’t say anything while we were gone.”
“Like nothing, nothing or nothing that gave you any clues?”
“Nothing, nothing. No words. None. He didn’t even flirt with the girls at the gym.”
“Then he’s really pissed. He doesn’t get like that often. The last time was when I wouldn’t let him go on a camping trip with his friend’s family. He didn’t understand that I didn’t know the parents well enough to feel ok about it.”
I managed to chuckle. “He’d have been pissed at both of us then. I wouldn’t have wanted him to go either.”
She cracked a smile. “Do you think he’s upset because he thinks… I don’t know how long he was standing there before he cleared his throat.”
“Alcide has a theory. He thinks that Eric’s bitterness could be coming to a head… seeing us together might be making him more angry about how life could’ve been. Normally I don’t pay much attention to Alcide, but… Eric did say something about other kids’ parents getting along at dinner last night… I think he could be jealous too.”
“Jealous of what?”
“Take your pick. He’s had you to himself for his whole life. He hasn’t had me… He could be thinking that you’re hogging me, or that I’m less interested in him now that you’re here.”
“That just about covers it.”
“He’s got to know that I’m not hogging you though… I mean… I’m just high maintenance. It’s not like I meant to have a panic attack…”
“He knows I still love you though.”
Her eye widened and whatever was going through her head was probably hinged on how much she wasn’t expecting to hear it. “You told him that?”
“It was actually a slip. I wouldn’t have told him because the situation is complicated enough. He was upset about being the only one angry with you while we were still on our way to Jackson. I called you ‘the woman I love’.”
“I… you… how much backpedaling did you do?”
“None? He thinks you…”
“Eric… that’s… that’s crazy.”
“I never stopped.”
“Why? I walked out on you… I mean I could almost understand…”
“Everything stopped for me, Sookie. That dickhead friend of yours…”
“Alcide’s mine now?”
“For the purposes of this conversation, yes… He’s been calling me a ‘walking Sookie museum’ for years. The prick would actually introduce me to girls when we went clubbing and call them ‘not Sookie’. Moving on didn’t work.”
“But now that you know you aren’t looking for a body… or that I didn’t leave because I hated you… Why…?”
“I couldn’t tell you that. I’ve been convinced that finding you and confronting you about leaving would give me closure since I first heard of closure, but it’s not the case. I love you just as much now as I did before.”
“I don’t know what to say.”
“Say that you don’t love me anymore. That might help.”
Her eyes welled up as she shook her head. “I can’t do that.”
I forced a smile, but she could tell. “Thanks a lot.”
She snorted. “What are we going to do?”
I shrugged. “I’m just as confused as ever. I think maybe we should stall by figuring out what’s wrong with Eric first.”
She nodded. “Then we talk about how insane we both are.”
I started pushing myself out of the floor, but she didn’t move. I put my hands down to help her up…
It hurt when she took them, but it didn’t keep me from watching her eyes until she hugged me. “You know it’s crazy, right? That you don’t hate me.”
“I can hate that you were gone without hating you.”
She tilted her head to look up at me. “I’m the reason I was gone though.”
“I thought we covered this last night.”
“I’ve felt guilty too long to stop on a dime.”
“Fine. I’ll give you a deadline.”
She smiled again and I stopped thinking just like I had that morning. It was a reflex that came back to me. Kissing her smile had become automatic before she left.
Sookie gave more than she had that morning. Arching her back to bring our bodies closer, holding my shoulders…meeting my tongue with hers…
That kiss left us starry eyed and speechless and brought back the need I had for her…
“We aren’t crazy, Sookie… We’ve just been waiting too long.”