It was painful to watch.
Sookie, Alcide and I sat in the shade of the lanai and forced down sandwiches as Eric earned his allowance that had formerly been his income.
We all took a turn trying to offer water to him, then lunch, but he snubbed every offer. It made me wish I had put a pool in. I wouldn’t have been so worried that he’d kill himself in the heat if he were just swimming laps.
Watching him pace back and forth over every square inch of the lawn made me think that maybe I should… I might’ve chuckled when I realized that the laps he’d done in the gym’s pool had been an extension of pacing.
When he ventured out of the gate to mow the front lawn, all we had left was listening.
Since Alcide needed a change, because he’d been in the same mood for more than ten minutes, he chuckled at Sookie and wished her luck now that she had two ‘Erics’ to deal with.
She gave him a half-smile. “I’m sure I’ll be fine… It’s the neighbor I can’t deal with.”
I chuckled at her. “She’s harmless. Eric isn’t interested…” Lorena had been blatantly watching Eric again and even yelled over the sound of the motor that she was ‘bummed’ that he hadn’t done the yard work earlier.
“Not the Tangerine Temptress over there… The dad. He’s a tool.”
“What did he do?”
“He came to the fence and introduced himself. He asked if I belonged to you or the ‘yard boy’. He stood at the fence for at least 20 minutes trying to make small talk. I excused myself to ‘go to the bathroom’, you know, just hoping he’d go away… Nope. He was still waiting when I got back… It took telling him that his pretentious grass looked like shit to get him to leave me alone. That’s when he started mowing.”
Alcide was just as surprised as I was. “He… Bill Compton… pushed his own mower?”
Sookie snickered, “And nearly blinded me. Tool took his shirt off… Someone needs a tanning bed and some pushups. He’s flabby and so pale he’s blue. He sounds like he’s read Gone With the Wind too many times and what the hell does he do for a living?”
“Day trader and networking rock star. He might as well not own a car. He rarely leaves Tara.”
She smiled. “So it’s not just me?”
Alcide and I shook our heads. It was most definitely not ‘just her’… He’d introduced me to several people who he called friends that rolled their eyes at him.
“I told him that I was Eric’s mom and I thought I was going to get sick hearing how I look too young to have a kid his age. I tried to fend him off… Told him I was too young because I had him at 14. That goon complimented me for getting children out of the way early so that I could enjoy my prime.”
I jokingly gaped at her while Alcide laughed. “The Ice Queen failed?”
“Retards don’t count!”
“He’s not retarded, just a cultivated bore. He counts. Admit it… Bill Compton ruined your track record.”
“Nuh, uh. You did.”
“I did NOT! You hit on me.”
“Um… if I remember correctly, you turned something I said, something innocent, into something dirty.”
“I needed clarification since you showed me your panties.”
She gasped and slapped my leg. “I. Did. Not!”
“You did. You were riding your bike in some micro skirt from the toddler department and showed me Victoria’s Secret.”
Alcide chuckled, “If it’s the skirt I’m thinking about, she showed everyone her panties in that thing.”
She gasped. “It wasn’t that short!” Funny part was that she knew exactly which skirt we were talking about.
Alcide and I both nodded. “Yeah it was.”
We all stopped laughing when Eric came into the yard with the weed whacker… We went back to watching him actively shut us all out.
I barely heard Alcide clear his throat over the edger. “He might not die of heat stroke if you put a pool in.”
“I was just thinking that.”
Sookie offered a sympathetic smile. “Me too. You two could have some fun designing it together.”
“If he ever starts talking again… The new construction would annoy the hell out of Compton, so there’s an added bonus.”
Alcide nodded. “Pool house?”
I shook my head. “Maybe extend the lanai, but we wouldn’t need both.”
“Borrow the plumbing from the downstairs bath so you can put in a bathroom and changing area at least… Pool water is a slip hazard on smooth floors. Remember Belle’s birthday party?”
“Shit. I did forget about that. Good idea.” One of the kids, thank God it was one of his nieces instead of some litigious stranger’s kid, slipped when a bunch of them ran into his (former) house to get to the cake. She ended up in a cast because of how hard she fell on her elbow.
Sookie giggled. “I’ll warn you now. Eric has a thing for waterfalls. He’s been trying to talk me into putting a pool in at the Jackson house for ages. I can’t tell you how many times I found strategically placed sketches or magazine pages.”
“Why didn’t you ever put one in?”
She shrugged. “Paranoid, I guess. He wouldn’t wait for me to be home to go swimming. Out in the middle of nowhere like that… too much could happen.”
Alcide finished, “Smart.” If Eric was half as stubborn as just one of his parents, he’d have done whatever he wanted rules and risks be damned. Within a single minute, Sookie and I came up with 5 instances when we’d proven how headstrong we both were. He came by his obstinate streak honestly.
It took another hour of watching Eric, made more excruciating by Compton’s company. He’d noticed that we were all outside and used socializing as an excuse to stroll into my yard and shamelessly hit on Sookie.
It was the only thing to bring Eric closer to us…
He’d spent extra time trimming around the steps of the lanai… It was getting hard for us to keep straight faces since every time Bill opened his mouth to unleash more pretentious droning, Eric revved the weed whacker so that the tool flirting with his mother would have to yell.
Bill still wasn’t catching on.
Eric shot a couple shitty looks at Compton while he scooped stray clippings out of the pond…
Sookie, Alcide and I were paying close attention to Eric… Not the pandering goon who was interviewing Sookie like he was writing her biography.
It seemed like Eric’s breaking point was when Bill asked Sookie if she was leaving much behind in Jackson. Bill’s concern was in the realm of romantic involvements and considering that Sookie and I were concerned enough about Eric’s reaction to seeing us in bed, I was forced to act like I didn’t want to cave in his face… Eric did get to say something. He called Bill Casper and told him to stop ‘working’ his mom.
Unfortunately, Alcide knew me too well. All he did by way of showing me that he knew how pissed I was getting was raise his eyebrow. At least he picked then to engage his dusty filter. I was just as grateful as I was surprised. His filter was responsible for all three of his marriages/divorces.
Once Bill had ignored all of the subtle hints we could come up with, Sookie came out and asked him to leave because we had plans.
Alcide didn’t wait for the gate to shut behind the unwelcome tool. “Alright, Junior. What the hell? You’re freaking me out. I have enough sisters and ex-wives that the silent treatment makes me worry that someone’s pregnant or about to start throwing shit.”
Sookie covered her face when she laughed at him. I didn’t bother hiding.
Eric stood up though. He pushed his wet hands into his pockets and stared at the waterfall for a minute. “I… I want to fucking kill him…”
Sookie’s smile disappeared. Mine did too, but the way Sookie looked at me made me think she thought Eric was talking about killing me. I knew better. Alcide did to, for that matter.
Eric continued after a minute. “I did the math… That guy… If it had happened a week or two in either direction, Mom would’ve known all along… way before she lost it and started seeing stuff… none of this shit would’ve happened.”
Sookie shook her head. “Eric, sweetie, we can’t change what happened…”
“I still want to kill him. He’s been living his life and doing whatever the hell he’s wanted to while our lives were shit. I want to kill him and I want to drag it out for 15 goddamn years.”
I couldn’t disagree with him. Eric and I could make a bonding experience over putting our heads together. Researching different methods to employ… Tracking Barry down. Stalking him.
Alcide grumbled, “Tough titty, kid.”
Eric turned around wearing a nasty scowl. “I know I can’t. I’m not a retard…”
“Who the fuck said anything about retards? I give two shits about scruples or laws… Mother fucker’s dead. We can’t do anything about anything and being pissed at a dead man isn’t going to do anybody any good.”
Alcide shrugged. “My brother’s a cop. I had him look the guy up.”
“How did he die?”
“In jail. Just so you know, we’re lucky that he didn’t kill Sookie too.”
I was a heartbeat away from asking Sookie if she knew when she slapped her hands over her mouth. She was crying again before she buried her face in my shoulder. “When?”
Alcide shook his head. “I don’t know when he died, but he was arrested in ’97. Campus security did a lot of back pedaling. Three other girls reported him, but they didn’t do anything but question him. He said that they were pissed because he broke up with them and were willing. Security didn’t know anything about date-rape drugs at the time and since there wasn’t any signs of force, they didn’t have any reason to pursue the case… Now is there anything else? Because, I mean, there’s not a goddamn thing we can do about it.”
While I rubbed Sookie’s back to try to calm her down, Eric stared at Alcide with his mouth open.
Alcide stood up and stretched. “Good. Now that that’s taken care of, go hit the showers and get ready for dinner. I’m buying… I might miss an alimony payment because of you and your mom, but I’m buying.”
“Where are we going?”
Eric almost smiled. “The rib joint?” I’d mentioned it as one of many options when we’d been eating out, but it had been on the other end of town from the errands we’d been running. Alcide wasn’t kidding about missing an alimony payment… or two… Eric had joked that his iPhone was cheaper than the tab from last night’s dinner. “
Alcide nodded. “I gotta go pick up my ‘little princess’. Watch out. I’m going to warn you now… she’s been flirting with your dad since she could sit up. She’s going to show her ass since there’s two of you.”
Eric wasn’t exactly ‘all better’, but he did smirk on his way into the house.
Alcide sat on the coffee table while he waited for Sookie to calm down a little. She sniffled as she pulled her face away from me. “Four?”
“Six, actually. Other girls came forward when they heard he’d been arrested… He only killed the one… He’s up for parole in 4 years.”
She shook her head. “You said he was dead.”
“You want Junior planning and plotting for the next 4 years… Like I will be?” He wasn’t the only one.
I thanked him… I didn’t know if he lied because he remembered my short fuse too well, or because he still thought like a teenager… but it was the smartest lie I’d ever heard.
Sookie started wiping her eyes. “You said campus security… what about local cops? That’s who laughed at me.”
“If they didn’t bother with a report, then there wouldn’t be anything to it… Sookie, I doubt you were the first, just the first one we know of… Josh said that Barry could have victims all over the country considering all of the victims were students…”
Sookie snorted out a laugh. “Josh? Josh is a cop? Josh, boy-of-a-thousand-hands, Josh?”
I nodded while he laughed. “Yes. My kid brother, the grab-assingest pervert in my family. His sense of morality finally caught up to his hormones. I’m surprised you didn’t know… I had him looking for you.”
“I… Eric has amazing credit for his age… I’ve had everything in his name since he got a social security number.” Like how her mother used hers… but with the opposite effect.
“Shoot me.” They both gave me shocked looks because of my slip. I wanted to be able to kick myself in the nuts. “When I started the firm… Alcide, you remember… I had a month long argument with the bank… they insisted that I’d established fabulous credit in Mississippi even though I’d never lived there.”
Instead of shooting me, Alcide punched my arm. He might as well have shot me considering what I’d done to myself at the gym. While I groaned and tried to knead the kink out of my bicep, my ‘best friend’ acted like he hadn’t just dead-armed me. “What the hell did you do for the first year you were gone?”
“I bought time by giving Russell the wrong social for a while… pretended I couldn’t remember it. I’ve been on the books as ‘S. B. Stackhouse’ and I’ve gone by Belle the whole time.”
He stood up again and started to walk towards the house. “You’re lucky I don’t punch you, ya sneaky little bitch… You’re buying your own dessert, Porky. See you at dinner in an hour.”
Sookie only waited for Alcide to close the door behind himself. “Don’t you dare.”
“Don’t I dare, what?”
“Go after him. Don’t go after Barry. I want to be wrong. I want to kick myself in the ass for not trusting your temper back then. Don’t you dare risk what you built, everything you’ve accomplished for some twisted sense of best-served-cold revenge. By then you’ll be risking a whole new stretch of Eric’s life by going to jail for God knows what you’d like to do to Barry. He isn’t worth it… Eric, he isn’t worth it… In four years…. Would you rather see him graduate college or see pictures on visiting day…?”
“Calm down. I’m smart enough to know that.”
She grabbed my hand. “Promise me. I fucked up enough for all three of our lives… Don’t…”
“Sookie, breathe… I’m not going to go after Barry. You were right about what I would’ve done back then and as much as I want to design a dungeon to keep him in so that I can work him over on a daily basis like he deserves, I won’t. I’ve grown up enough to know I couldn’t get away with it… And I know exactly what I’d miss… I’d rather hold my grandchildren than just see pictures of them.”
Her eyes were wide and rimmed with tears. “You missed enough. You won’t do anything to make you miss more. You wouldn’t.”
I nodded. “I missed enough. I won’t do anything to cost me more. I wouldn’t. I promise. Ok?” I’d have to get used to the punching bag, but I wasn’t as impetuous as I used to be.
She nodded and scooted over to hug me. “Now… all we have to do is get it through Eric’s head, right?”
“Sort of… He thinks Barry is dead… As long as he never hears the name, he won’t be able to go hunting for anything.”
She sighed a heavy breath like she’d been holding it. “Thank God for small favors… Does Alcide know?”
“If he doesn’t, I’ll make sure he does.”
She whimpered, “I hate having to lie again, Eric…”
“Me too, but I already decided that this is a good lie… if he comes out and asks, he’s just going to have to be pissed. He knows that he was our friend, but I’m not giving him a name. He doesn’t need it to be mad and the name won’t make him feel better.”
“I think… maybe it would help him if you… What you told me last night… That you’re angry too and why…”
“I was already thinking about that… And you should tell him that my temper, the one he seems to have inherited, is a big reason why you kept such a miserable secret for so long.”
She nodded against my shoulder. “That sounds like a perfect plan. Count me in.”
Dinner went well enough… As well as could be expected since Belle was pissed about being pulled away from her Polyvore account. She had grand plans to strategize the ‘dream wardrobe Daddy refuses to provide’… Even though Belle started off with a chip on her shoulder because she thought she was meeting ‘her new mom’, Sookie didn’t gain any extra popularity points when Belle used her cell phone to show off her Amazon wish list of cocktail dresses… Sookie used her own cell to send Belle the link to Gap Kids.
Belle made the mistake of complaining about Alcide’s hissy fit over her failed Valentine’s Day plans for a school dance that included a dress and heels that he wouldn’t have let her mother out of the house in. The former Mrs. Herveaux had been raising Belle to be the next Paris Hilton and encouraged the clothes-horsing and premature tweenishness. Eric listened to her whining patiently, including when she called Alcide ‘Dad-zilla’, ‘Papa-saurus’ and ‘Dad-Hole’… Belle thought she was being cute, but Eric wasn’t impressed.
Before our appetizers had been cleared, Eric raised his eyebrow and reached across the table to pluck her nose and stopped her midsentence. “Whah. You’re boo-hooing to the wrong guy, you spoiled little twit. You’re mom’s a lazy bitch for not ever telling you ‘no’. I like your dad just fine. And if you need a list of expensive crap he should get you to prove he loves your mean ass, you can start with rhinoplasty because you got stuck with Bill Cosby’s nose. Shut up and be glad you have a father because you can’t bully a trust fund into opening up before you’re 18.” I think I saw blood in the corner of Alcide’s mouth from the way he was biting his lip to keep from laughing. When Belle’s mother wanted a tummy tuck after the pregnancy, Alcide not-so-jokingly asked if she wanted to get a nose job while she was at it… and called her his ‘little pudding pop’ to her face… ‘The Cos’ behind her back…
Belle stopped thinking she had an anti-parental ally…
Eventually the waitress brought Eric a napkin. Alcide and I managed to grunt our approval. Black hair. Huge dark brown eyes. Deep tan complexion in a white tank top. Petite with a flirty smile… Emmanuelle. Sookie jokingly tried to take his phone away from him because she was ‘too old’ for him.
A couple minutes after Eric sent her a text, he got a return… He scowled at his phone before he tossed it to Alcide… he read the message before he handed the phone to me as he yanked the napkin away from Eric with a ‘ha ha, Junior’…
“Awww, I’m flattered cutie, but ur mom’s right. U R a little young 4 me. Since I’ve been driving longer than u’v been walking, the dark haired gentleman was my target.”
Alcide texted while Sookie joked about how pretty Emmanuelle would look at their divorce hearing.
While we (meaning Sookie and Eric) waited for dessert, Alcide texted me that the ‘next future ex Mrs. Herveaux’ was 31 and gainfully employed as a dance instructor… and he’d already reinstituted level one of his college ‘pussy filter’ by telling her that one of his two best friends was an ex-girlfriend… she ‘warned’ him that she was guardian to her niece and nephew and still went clubbing at her age and called it ‘work related’.
Hot + Not scared off by female best friend (yet) + Employed + Had some sense of responsibility + There wasn’t any way (since Alcide drove his Jeep instead of his Vanquish and didn’t wear his Rolex) that she was gold-digging…
She was 5 for 5.
They might have been a match made in heaven… or hell… whatever.
Eric did end up getting two new numbers of his own by the time we left the restaurant… so when we got home Sookie and I got ditched and he took over my office.
Other than telling him to shop for a laptop while he IMed the girls his mother called ‘teen harlots’ so that I could use my own computer once in a while, I let him have at it. I was just happy to see his mood rebound and so was Sookie.
I don’t know where the fuck she was going to put it, but she popped a bag of popcorn and grabbed a couple of beers so that we could find something to watch in the den… and joked that we were ‘officially old’ since we were spending our Saturday night watching The Breakfast Club… on AMC.
It didn’t really matter what was on though…
Since Eric’s temperament seemed to be leveling out, my thoughts went back to the moments during the day when I’d had Sookie to myself…
I barely made it to the first commercial before my mouth fell open and my brain purged. “I spent most of the last 16 years wondering what I’d done wrong. I asked everyone we knew if you’d said something to them.”
She mumbled past a mouthful of popcorn, “Ahm tho thowwy.”
I chuckled at her. “That’s not why I’m bringing it up… I wanted the chance to make it right, apologize, explain… I was worried that you’d heard about the bachelor party getting out of hand and thought I’d been part of it or one of the girls at the bar might’ve done something catty… There were times that I hated you for leaving, but… I’ve always wanted you back.”
She choked down her snack. “I don’t know… Eric, I don’t know what to say.”
“You always planned for the worst and hoped for the best… You figured I’d hate you, that I’d turn you away… What did you hope for?”
“That we could be civil… you know, get along for Eric’s sake.”
“How about the pipe dream? What you didn’t let yourself think about because you didn’t want to kid yourself.”
She cringed. “Honestly… being friends again.” We hadn’t ever been ‘friends’.
“Is that what you want or is that as far as you let yourself get?”
“Eric, if you’re asking if I showed up expecting you to take me back…”
“I’m not asking that. I’m asking if I have a chance of getting you back. I’m asking if there’s a snowball’s chance in hell that you’d be willing to try being together again. I know I’m probably going to find out on Tuesday that wanting to be with you is part of some complex or syndrome I’ve given myself, but I’ve missed you. I’ve missed us. I want to try to get back some of what we had. I know that we’ve been apart for long enough that we might not work out, but I want to find out.”
She stared with an unreadable expression. “Um. Wow.”
“Wow, I need a restraining order, wow? Wow, I need to put him out of his misery, wow? Wow, I should’ve packed my red panties, wow?”
She giggled. “I packed red panties.”
“Are you avoiding answering the question or inviting me to see them?”
“Neither… what do we do about Eric? I mean… If we try…”
“Sookie. Stop for a second. What do you want?”
“I want to stop fucking with his head. I don’t want him to see everything blow up in our faces…”
“I want to find out if we can be together again.”
“I do too, but…”
“But what? He’s pissed that we’ve been apart…”
“I want to bring it up in counseling and explain that since we never stopped loving each other, we want to see if there’s anything left. That if it doesn’t work out, he’s no worse off than any other kid whose parents couldn’t stay together, but we want the chance to see where things take us. Since you left the day after graduation, I’ve had a five year plan collecting dust in the back of my mind. I didn’t just miss out on his life, Sookie. I missed out on yours too. I think he’ll understand.”
“Why would he understand? Everything that’s happened…”
“He called me out for still loving you and he narced on you too… We’ve done everything since we could make our own decisions so that we don’t end up like our parents. We won’t let ourselves do that to him. He’s old enough that we should respect his decisions about who he stays with so if we don’t have anything but memories, then there’s no battle royale to be had about him… As it stands now, his parents aren’t together. There’s no harm in trying.”
“You’re sure? You seriously want to try to pick up where we left off? After all this time?”
“We’ll be old Sookie and old Eric, but we’ll still be Sookie and Eric. We may very well crash and burn. We might find out that we were just commiserating or just not thinking clearly because of our shitty diets all those years ago, but at least we’ll find something out instead of wondering…”
She nodded and stuffed a fistful of popcorn into her mouth while she thought… then another. I’d be lying if I said she wasn’t killing me. Finally, “I still… let me think about it. Ok? I seriously… last Sunday when Eric said you wanted to talk to me, my hands shook for like an hour after we hung up… I thought you were… I thought you were upset again… or… being friends again was my best-case-scenario… I never thought… I was pretty sure that you were going to regret kissing me today… I need to switch gears and think. Is that ok? I know you’ve practically spent half of your life waiting around for me to get my head out of my ass, but…”
“Then think. I’m not going anywhere.”
“You don’t mind?”
I shook my head. I was ecstatic that she was thinking about it… Hell, it felt amazing just to have gotten it off of my chest.
Even though I told Sookie that I usually spent my weekends bar hopping and pub crawling with Alcide, Sookie insisted that turning in before midnight only proved her ‘getting old’ theory…
We looked in on Eric on our way upstairs… He was typing like a madman with one earbud in, talking to someone with his phone to the other ear and had tabs open for researching both schools, the hotel for his party, and IM tabs open (and blinking). Having Sookie’s attention span was going to be a godsend for him in college…
I took another shower… honestly, I was afraid that I wouldn’t be able to lift my arms at all if I waited until morning, and I was already going to lose the standing bet I had with Alcide. Sundays included a late tee time… loser buys a tank of gas and lunch… even though his gas tank (and his stomach) was bigger than mine, he considered it fair since he usually lost.
Once I slid my exhausted ass between my sheets, I caught myself smiling at my ceiling again. Over the course of the day, when everything was broken down into the simplest of terms, I’d had a normal Saturday. I’d worried and laughed. I resorted to a lie and been honest enough to open an uncloseable can of worms… It was the most ‘normal’ I’d felt since before Sookie disappeared.
I’m not sure how long I laid there… not long. I was too tired to have lasted any amount of time in the quiet before I would’ve crashed… The soft knock on the doorframe to my room got my attention like it had the night before.
I didn’t have to look to know it was Sookie. Eric didn’t knock unless the door was closed.
I sat up when I invited her in and asked what she needed, but she didn’t say anything…
She grinned and walked over and slid into the bed to lay down on my pillow with her back to me… It felt automatic to snuggle in behind her, put my arm around her, pull her closer…
And when I woke up the next morning to Alcide pounding on the wall between my room and Sookie’s, there was a dollar on the bedside table.
Sunday and Monday were no different… Even though I woke up, well rested yet alone, Sookie and I had very comfortably slept together until she slipped out of my bed just before dawn to keep Eric from getting the wrong idea.
As we sat in the sitting area of Claudia Crane’s office waiting for Eric’s ‘turn’ to be over, Sookie kept an iron grip on my hand and used her free hand to anxiously flip through an old issue of Better Homes and Gardens.
Neither of us were comfortable with the system Miss Crane had chosen for our first visit… We’d spent all of 5 minutes with her together… but she wanted to talk to each of us separately for a few minutes so that she could ‘get a bead on things’… supposedly, the arrangement would help her decide how to best approach our family, but I was trying to figure out where the fuck the family part of family counseling was going to start.
Sookie had gone first. Claudia called the choice ‘getting it out of the way’. Since Sookie had been in therapy for years, she figured she would be the most willing victim… She was right. Sookie had no problems with being the first…
I was a little shocked that Miss Crane’s first question to me when I took my turn was why I volunteered to be second… She gave me an unreadable look when I told her that my reasons were to make Eric feel more comfortable by not seeming reluctant to cooperate. She didn’t ask any questions that took me off-guard. Everything seemed pretty straight forward. She asked how I coped while Sookie was ‘missing’ and I told her honestly that I hadn’t. Most of the questions had to do with what had happened since I found out that Eric was my son. Of course, Miss Crane brought up the concerns that Sookie and I shared… That we were both interested in more than just getting along for Eric’s sake… more like we had been before… more like picking up where we left off… If Sookie and I couldn’t get back what we had, which is exactly what we hoped for, what the fuck would that do to Eric?
Eric going last put Sookie and me on pins and needles. Whenever we went out somewhere, he seemed to have fun. Whenever Sookie or I overheard him talking to friends about moving he seemed excited. When it came to planning his party, he actually seemed determined. But he was spending more and more time with his fish…
Sookie and I both jumped when Miss Crane opened the door to her office to invite us back into the room.
Instead of sitting behind her desk like she had at the beginning of our meeting, she took a seat next to Eric on one sofa leaving Sookie and I to sit on the other sofa opposite them. With her clipboard full of notes in hand she fanned out her gypsy skirt and crossed her legs…
The quiet meant to let us get settled was nerve-wracking as hell… It felt like it went on for hours even though it was barely a minute.
She started with a sudden ‘So’ that startled Sookie and I again. “You folks definitely win the title of ‘most unique’ family situation I’ve ever encountered.”
Sookie rolled her eyes. “Is there a prize?”
Miss Crane shrugged. “Sure. Next time we meet the coffee is on me… I don’t usually do this… I usually keep everything everyone tells me between me, you and the fly on the wall and spend a lot of time encouraging the family to be more open with each other, but… I want to tattle on all of you. With your permission of course.” She waved her hands through the air like she was the maestro of some kind of silent opus as she spoke. I decided that if nothing else, it would be a great way to make fun of her if we found out that we should find another counselor.
At the moment, I was on the verge of growling. “Miss Crane, why is it that you think tattling will help?”
“Call me Claudia, please. I think it will work because it will get us all to the same page. Because of your unique situation, we could play the game and dance around being open, but I think you’ll all agree that you’ve been in a holding pattern long enough. Less time dancing, more time healing, I think.”
I gave her a nod, quickly followed by Sookie… Eric was the last holdout.
As soon as he shrugged in agreement, Claudia smiled and started, “Oh kee doh kee… Sookie is a gimmie… She feels horrible. She hates that her fears kept everyone apart for so long. You guys know that. She owns it. She loves seeing you guys together, getting along, but it’s bittersweet for her because of course, it seems as though she was afraid of nothing. I’d be lying if I claimed that I haven’t imagined tracking down the old fart that misdiagnosed her to slash his tires myself.”
She paused for a moment to cross a couple things off of her notes and it gave Eric enough time to mumble, “Tires, throat… whatever.”
She winked at him. “We’ll get to you in a minute, Mr. Hostility. Wait your turn… Now, Eric, the taller and slightly calmer… Is furious… It’s a very good thing that Sookie’s rapist is dead because I have no doubt that a well planned accident would befall that guy… And the amount of control he has in regards to Dr. Misdiagnosis is limited to the fact that his morals don’t allow him to fantasize about an old man’s murder. Dr. de Castro is very lucky to be well into his retirement… And… Now… Without further ado, Junior… does fantasize about it. Priority number one, for us as a team, is to get the reins on this not-so-little guy’s anger issues. We need to give him an outlet so that he doesn’t end up with a permanent chip on his shoulder.”
I nodded and Sookie offered “Agreed” at the same time I did. Something about it made Claudine smile.
“He’s dealing like a trooper though… I swear. His anger is aimed at who deserves it and he isn’t lashing out… He’s pretty good about not bottling up his feelings until he explodes. There are plenty of adults who can’t make that claim… And I have to tell you, it helps that he feels like he can be honest with you, Daddy-Oh.”
“Me? Not his mother?”
When Eric cringed, Claudia patted his knee. “She needs to know. Remember, we’re being open… Eric feels like she’ll take his frustration on a personal level. He knows that you’re in a similar place since you were victimized in the same way as he was. He mentioned that he was worried that mom might not get that he can hate the situation without hating her…”
Claudia was interrupted by Sookie. She giggled and elbowed me.
Eric shook his head like he was confused. “You’re not upset?”
Sookie shook her head. “No… Your dad told me the same damn thing. I get it, Sweetie. At least, I’m starting to. Really…It’s fine.”
His eyes widened. “Alright… If. You. Say. So.”
Claudia bit her lip when she started to smile. “See! One dance down. Now… Shall we get down to the nitty gritty?”
I snorted. “Isn’t that what we were already doing?”
“Not even close, Dad. We haven’t gotten to the list of conflicts we have going on.”
I thought ‘oh shit’, but Sookie actually said it at the same time Eric said, ‘oh crap’.
Claudia snickered, “You folks are just too cute, I’ll tell you what… Ok. The spoiling of Junior… He doesn’t like it. He appreciates it, that Dad wants to do things for him, but he’s worried that Mom will feel like Dad is rubbing her nose in…”
Sookie waved her hand through the air to cut her off. “Non issue. Period. I love it. Every freaking second of it. Eric, I’m tattling because I talked to him about it when we were alone. I love that he’s getting to do stuff for you. The pond, the party, the pool… I love that y’all are getting to do this stuff together now. Enjoy it, Baby. Don’t second guess it. I’ll let him know if I think he’s going too nuts and he knows it. We’ve talked about it because he was worried about it too.”
“Y’all talked about it?”
Sookie nodded. “I’m on board for everything. Besides, didn’t I put my foot down about the laptop?”
“You didn’t put your foot down… you bought it because…”
“I told you… I was going to get it for you anyway because both of your school options required one. That wasn’t me evening the scorecard because he bought you a cell phone or got to dig a pond with you… I love seeing him get to spoil you… I love seeing you get spoiled…”
“Because you feel guilty.”
“Partly. Do you think for a second I’d be upset with him for this stuff if I didn’t feel guilty though?”
“You gave Uncle Jason grief over getting me a new iPod when mine got run through the washer…”
“Your uncle hangs siding for a living and drives a truck worth less than what I put into your college fund every month, Sweetie. I gave him a hard time because of the cost to him. Not because he was spoiling you… And I made Crystal let me pay them back.”
“You’re freaking serious?”
When she nodded, Eric looked at me. “We talked about it Friday night… I felt like an asshole because we’d ganged up on her about the party… She’s fine with it. If you still feel weird about it, then I’ll back off… I know you don’t expect it, but we worked our asses off to get through school so that Gehry and Wright…”
Sookie offhandly added, “Don’t forget little Rossi.”
I snorted, “How could I forget him?”
Eric rolled his eyes. “That shit’s just wrong.”
Sookie and I laughed while I tried to get back on track. “Maybe, but the point is we busted our humps so that our brutally named hypothetical children wouldn’t have the same deficient childhoods we did. Wearing new clothes and eating until you’re full doesn’t make you spoiled. Seeing a doctor and a dentist doesn’t make you spoiled. It’s stuff we can provide because we met our goals. And before you ask, I’m not throwing my money around because I’m making up for lost time… If you’re more comfortable with Mini-Golf and McDonalds than you are at my country club and the Japanese steakhouse, then that’s what we’ll do next Sunday. If you want to join the Y instead of going to my gym, then we’ll do that. Nothing we’ve done is out of scale to what we always wanted though… Well, the party is bigger than what we would’ve done normally, but your mother and I agree that the hotel is a better route than the house because if something happens, then it’s the hotel’s problem and seeing all of your friends in person one last time before you move will be a fun way for you to close one chapter of your life before moving on to the next.”
He stared at me and other than blinking, I couldn’t tell he was alive. “Really?”
Sookie and I were still nodding when Claudia sang, “I almost don’t need to be here… I love you guys so hard. Really… I need to know, how did you decide on those names?”
Sookie snickered, “When I met his cousin, Pam, she joked about how I needed to get pregnant because I needed to gain weight. We rattled off a quick list of our favorite architects… I hadn’t thought about baby names until Eric was born. I knew Eric…” she reached out and patted my knee. “…This one, hates his middle name…”
Claudia looked at her notes. “Steven?” I cringed just hearing it. I didn’t even use the initial.
Sookie nodded. “Gehry was at the top of our little list.”
Eric chuckled. “Nevermind. Love Gehry. Thanks for not going with Steven, Mom. Talk about dodging a bullet.”
Claudia laughed at him while she crossed another item off of her list. “Skipping another dance, yeah? This is exciting, guys! Smile.”
Eric narrowed his eyes at her. “Is that really a big deal?”
She grinned at him. “Oh yeah it is. First sessions are usually a nightmare. No one’s crying or screaming… most families wait until their lives are at a boiling point before they call. You guys are getting doughnuts with your coffee if you keep this up… Now… Pam was mentioned… Eric wants to go to this family reunion.” Fuck. He’d answered the phone yesterday to get an automatic onslaught of berating from Pam because he sounded enough like me on the phone.
I hung my head. “Ok.”
“It’s ok that he wants to go, or ‘ok’, you’ll take him?”
“You seem less than thrilled about it.”
“I hate about 95% of my family, but if he wants to meet them, then we’ll go. It could be his last chance to meet my grandparents anyway. They’re in their 90s.”
“Do you have any concerns about your family meeting the son they didn’t know you have?”
“No. I only talk to a few of them. I give two shits about what any of them think. Meeting them could inspire Eric to choose a profitable major though.”
“So, to clarify, you aren’t ashamed of having a bastard son…”
“Oh Hell No! That’s not it AT ALL. I haven’t been back in 17 years…”
Sookie gasped, “You’re kidding!”
I shook my head. “Seriously. After the way my father…”
“You haven’t been back since I went with you!?”
“No. Why the fuck would I? I call Grandma and Grandpa every couple of weeks… 34 grandchildren and I’m the only one who stepped up to take care of them when Grandpa’s nest egg dwindled… Most of them can rot as far as I’m concerned.”
“Pam didn’t even help?”
“No. At the time their ‘assets weren’t liquid’. I never bothered to ask her if she’d gotten around to giving a fuck. She’s probably still pissed that I bought their house and screwed her out of whatever inheritance she thought she’d get. My uncle sent me a bill when Grandma and Grandpa’s house needed a new roof. He didn’t even reshingle his own parent’s house at cost. Even the ones who could afford to keep their shit together were paycheck to paycheck. You know, Stan actually called me. That ‘slime ball’ actually thanked me for helping them out without asking if I had some cash to spare for him unlike the rest of the assholes who got wind of it and my amazing, spectacular, fabulous father stole the fucking credit card I sent so that his father’s medications would be paid for. The prick took it to a bar.”
Claudia cleared her throat. “Um, excuse me, what happened when you visited? You said your father did something.”
“Sookie and I fell asleep on the couch together. She woke me up because there was a man watching us sleep. He was drunk enough to need the wall to hold him up. He spouted off some shit about being pissed that we visited my grandparents and a cousin, but not him and my mother. We went the next day to visit, but they were still passed out and we were there for a few more days and they never came out of the woodwork again.”
Eric grumbled. “Nevermind.”
“No. We’ll go. It won’t be any better than your mother’s side of the family, but you wanted to meet them…”
“Can we go… Your grandparents don’t sound bad… Could we go so I can meet them? Not for the reunion or anything… Just them…”
“Don’t let my opinion…”
“No. Seriously… It sounds just like the Stackhouses… I’ve already seen that.”
“If you’re sure then we’ll drive up next week when we get back from Jackson.”
Sookie smiled at Eric. “Grandma is a sweetheart. That’ll be fun for y’all…”
I smirked at her. “Y’all? You’re going with us.”
She shook her head. “I don’t think…”
“She still asks after you.”
“Dementia set in about 10 years ago. I tried telling her that we weren’t together anymore, but she didn’t retain the information. She remembers that she never gave you her burgoo recipe, but she can’t remember to put boots on to shovel the walk when it snows.”
Sookie’s chin puckered. “That’s so damn sweet… Why haven’t you moved them down here to be near you? It’s not like your family would notice.”
“They won’t budge. I’m not sure the change wouldn’t kill them anyway. They know their little corner of Indiana like it’s their house.”
“Do you plan on staying with Stan?”
I laughed at her. “Not a chance in hell. We’ll stay with my grandparents.”
“Like we should’ve last time?”
“No. We shouldn’t have.” I didn’t need to remind her why I wanted to be alone with her… It only took her a second before she started blushing.
Eric interrupted by snorting. “See what I mean?” He directed his question to Claudia.
She nodded. “I’m starting to get the picture.”
Sookie raised an eyebrow. “What? What did we miss?”
Eric and Claudia shared a look before she crossed something off of her notes. “We’re making a lot of progress… I think.”
Sookie faked a smile. “What was that? What did we miss?”
“Another concern of Junior’s.”
“He knows that you are mostly here for his benefit… but… he’s a little confused… I can’t say that I disagree with his earlier comment about how well you two get along…”
I couldn’t help but chuckle, which made Sookie swat my leg. “Would you please tell me what I’m missing?”
I poked her ribs. “Be nice… It seems like the boy is using the umbrella of ‘family counseling’ to force a conversation about…”
She gasped when she realized what was going on. “You little jerk! You could’ve just asked!”
Claudia wrinkled her nose. “Hey Mom, that’s why we’re here, right?”
“Yeah… but that was just sneaky… We were planning on talking to him anyway. You know that.”
“But he didn’t. Which one of you wants to start?”
Sookie shoved my shoulder wearing half a smirk. “You think it’s so cute that he was being a devious little putz…”
I chuckled at her. “Don’t lie. You think it’s funny too…” She stuck her tongue out at me. “…Eric, you’re not an idiot. You know your mother and I still love each other… I’d be surprised if you hadn’t already noticed things starting to move in that direction, but your mother and I want to try being a couple again.”
“To what extent?”
“Meaning what exactly? Do you want to know if you’ll get a hot babysitter when we go out or…”
“Why the hell are we making arrangements to move into a house designed for the conceited masses when we could just move into the house you built for Mom?”
Sookie giggled that he was nothing if not blunt.
Clearing my throat didn’t buy nearly as much time as I hoped it would. “Because we haven’t been together in so long, we don’t think it’ll be smart to put all of our eggs in one basket… She’s already bought the house. There’s no harm in setting it up as a neutral corner if we find ourselves needing some breathing room.”
“How likely is that to be though? That you need ‘breathing room’?”
“We don’t know, but I sure as hell don’t want her to feel trapped by moving in. We’re trying to be smart. There’s a lot of things we want to avoid including getting ahead of ourselves.”
“Fine. I’m just going to move my stuff into your house then. There’s no damn point in setting up a second bedroom. I’d never use it.”
I risked a look at Sookie and she had a smile waiting for me. “If that’s what you want, that’s fine, but there may very well be times that you want breathing room of your own.”
He shrugged. “I mean, I’ll keep some clothes there, but any port in a storm I guess. If something’s irking me enough to want to be away I won’t care what color the sheets are.”
Claudia slid to the edge of the sofa and clapped her hands in school-girl fashion. “Oh Goody! This is… Wait. Was there something else?” She grabbed her notes and started flipping through them.
“That’s it?” It took a moment for us to realize it, but all of us asked her at the same time.
Claudia giggled, “you guys…” before she looked up from her search. “…Ok Lady and Gents, Miss Fant called me this morning about Sookie’s telephone session yesterday to mention… well, Mom, why don’t you tell them what was so different.”
Sookie rolled her eyes slightly. “I haven’t popped a single pill…”
Claudia made another girly clap. “Congrats! But that wasn’t what I was talking about.”
Sookie puffed out her cheeks to huff out a deep breath. “I didn’t want to call her.”
I didn’t get it. I’d been staying away from the topic to respect Sookie’s privacy on that front… Eric had a big enough reaction for both of us. He lurched forward and blurted, “NO WAY!”
I smiled in Sookie’s direction. “Now I’m out of the loop.”
“For years, I’ve been early and eager for every appointment… yesterday, I didn’t want to deal with it. I tried to forget it, as a matter of fact. We were having so much fun… I felt like I was wasting time by calling her.”
“Really? Why is that?”
“Because I feel normal… I mean, way more normal than I have in a long time…”
Claudia took over. “Miss Fant said that Sookie isn’t allowed to fire her quite yet, but she is looking forward to being canned… She’s going to continue to do sessions by phone… Did she mention that she wants to meet while you’re in Jackson?”
Sookie and I both gave Claudia a nod. Sookie mentioned that Octavia wanted to have lunch with us. Just us. No Eric. I was going to have a rod up my ass until it was over. I couldn’t help it. Even if the premise was to see how things were going, meeting the woman in person seemed foreboding as hell and I couldn’t explain why.
“And for my part… My so far, gloriously straightforward part, will be being at your beck and call. Anything you folks need, you call me. I’ll mediate. I’ll tattle. I’ll listen. I’ll advise…”
Eric snorted, “Do you do windows?”
When we all laughed at the inside joke of there being more than 2000 square feet of glass in our house, she looked us all over in turn. “No. As a matter of fact, I do them so poorly my husband took over the job… Is there anything else?”
Sookie and Eric just stared at her, leaving me. “We’re done?”
“We could hang out for a while if you like. I have Parcheesi.”
“We don’t seem to have done much.”
“Oh, I beg to differ on that one, Dad… I think we’ve established a lot thus far. You guys are in a honeymoon period right now. Everyone is excited to be together… There will be kinks. Every family has them… But your circumstances aren’t just different because of Sookie’s attack and your subsequent separation… You folks are probably the most honest bunch to sit in these couches. That, by itself, is the best thing you have going for you. And it helps that you all care about how the rest of your family feels. Baggage, apathy and lies get dragged into this office more often than not. You guys have already been through hell. This is the fun part. I’m excited to meet with your family again. Can we try to get together between your trips to Mississippi and Indiana?”
I think I stuttered. “That shouldn’t be a problem.”
“Ohhhhhhh… I get it. You guys expected a strong opinion about your interest in rekindling… maybe an unfavorable opinion from Junior. Am I right?”
As I nodded, I noticed that Sookie did too.
“Not from me. Me and Eric here, we talked about it… He knows that you two might not work out, but he wasn’t sure how to say something without seeming like he expected you to give it a go for his sake… He thought that you might be worried about what breaking up could do to him… He just wanted to see you guys see how things go since you get along so well… Seeing you two interact makes me agree with Junior 110%. I think you owe it to yourselves. You have enough regrets.”
My concern wasn’t what a break up would do to Eric. It wasn’t that I didn’t care. Far from the case. It was just that I had no intention of letting things get ugly. The concern that was getting the bulk of my attention was how protective Eric was over Sookie. He seemed just as ‘bad’ about it as I ever was. He’d given Alcide a dirty look every time he made a fat joke until we explained that the joke came from when his mother weighed 96 pounds with a full stomach and that it had been an ironic nickname.
Eric had been cutting my lawn when I woke up for 4 Saturdays in a row… Every one of those days, he could’ve seen my ‘company’ from the night before taking her walk of shame. The last thing I wanted was for him to think that I considered Sookie as insignificant as them… Or even think that I was the type to ‘love’ every girl I’d been with since Sookie. Explaining that the other women in my life (if one could say one night was ‘in my life’) hadn’t meant anything to me while assuring him that my relationship with his mother was not built on sand… that was going to be tricky… or at least I thought it was.
I jokingly told Claudia that ‘yes men’ usually charged more while we were on our way out. She smiled and told us, “You’re architects… have you ever spent a long time buried in projects that you were never really happy with, projects that were disappointments for one reason or another and made you question if you’d ever get the chance to be reminded that there was a good reason to show up every day? Most of the appointments on my schedule make me sad before they even sit down because I know I won’t be able to help them… You guys are awesome. Your family being on my schedule will make me smile because if nothing else, you have hope… Don’t forget to make another appointment and bring me pictures of that party for Junior.”
Even though Sookie and I had to compare our schedules so that we could plan for our next appointment on our way out of Claudia’s office, it seemed like she was just as surprised as I was… Not only had we been bracing ourselves for Eric’s reaction, be we were expecting to hear about how idealistic or unsound wanting to be together was.
Not getting either, not getting backed into a corner and forced to defend ourselves felt strange. ‘Crazy’ as it was, I felt like the session had been anticlimactic. We’d confirmed things we already knew… Our situation was weird. Eric needed help with his temper. And we were willing to do just about anything to get one another through the transition…
Since Eric was driving, we left it to him to choose where we’d have lunch…
We really hadn’t said much of anything… Sookie hadn’t said a word since we’d opened the door to leave Claudia and I caught Eric staring at us after we let him order 4 appetizers…
“Are y’all pissed about something?”
I shook my head. “I’m just kind of surprised things went so smoothly.”
He chuckled. “We should throw stuff at each other next time… Mom?”
Sookie sighed before she looked at him. “I just thinking about how sad it was that Claudia thinks we’re lucky.”
Eric snorted. “I know, right? I mean it’s crazy how much worse folks have it… y’all had it worse growing up than anybody I’ve ever met. Shit could be better, but it could be a lot worse.”
I couldn’t disagree with him. Even if my parents had gone to counseling, it would’ve been court ordered and pointless. “I think she hit the nail on the head when Claudia mentioned that a lot of families wait for a breaking point. I had a drafter get arrested in the office. He’d beaten his kid bad enough to put him in the hospital and kept coming to work for 2 days like he wasn’t wanted for child abuse…”
Eric rolled his eyes. “That’s just crazy.”
“Not according to the judge. He didn’t even have booze or drugs as an excuse… So… You asked if we were pissed. Could that have been your guilty conscience talking? Maybe because you hadn’t been completely honest with us?”
He mashed his lips together and started scrutinizing the menu. “What’s the difference between Lo Mein and Chow Mein?”
It was hard to not laugh at him. “Lo is noodles and Chow is a mix of cabbage, celery and onion… I remember the difference because chow-chow is pickled cabbage. You don’t have to walk on eggshells. If you want to know something, ask. If you want to say something, speak your peace.”
“Not going to let it go, are you?”
I snorted at him. “Not a chance.”
“I’m sorry, alright? I just…”
“I’m not after an apology. I’m just making sure you know. Shut up and figure out which page of the menu you want. The waitress is coming back.”
He smirked at his menu and mumbled, “Speaking your peace?”
“As often as possible. Keeping shit to yourself isn’t healthy. People don’t have to like what you have to say, but sincerity gets you closer to respect than being phony.”
He snorted. “You’re supposed to wait to open your fortune cookie.” Funny little shit.
I flipped him off, but Sookie poked his leg with her chopsticks while she laughed at his joke.
Since Eric couldn’t decide what he wanted, Sookie ordered 8 entrees for us to share… and just after the waitress left, all 3 of our cells went off. “Cld 1 of u bitches let me know something? I care more abt ur therapy than I did when I went w/ the cos!”
Sookie laughed, “Maybe that’s why he’s making those alimony payments?”
When she started to type a reply, I grabbed her hand. “Fuck with him.”
She licked her lips and raised an eyebrow. “Like how?”
“The best part of that is that you didn’t resist the idea… I don’t know… reply and ask him to let you know if he hears from me… Tell him I stormed out or something.”
“Why would you storm out? I need to have an excuse ready because he’s not going to text back, he’ll just call.”
“Good point…” I had to think about it… and I wasn’t coming up with anything.
Eric tried, “He flipped out when you said that you were keeping the Jackson house in case you wanted to go back?”
Sookie shook her head. “I already told him that I was keeping it for sentimental reasons… because it was the first house I did from the ground up.”
“How about… OH! How about I freaked out about y’all getting back together and took a swing because I… nuts. Why would I have a problem with y’all being together? You’d know better than I would.”
That wasn’t hard to come up with. “You thought wanting to get back together was an element of your mom’s PTSD and that I was just taking advantage?”
He made a disgusted face. “Really? That’s Wonka-nuts… Go for it, Mom… tell him I stormed out too. You can’t find either of us.”
While Sookie started her text, Eric replied asking Alcide for word if he heard from me because he was going back to the house to get his things… and I replied with a believable ‘not now’.
Within seconds, Sookie’s phone was ringing and she pointed as she fussed at Eric and me. “Don’t you dare laugh and screw it up. I’ll lose it.” Our ‘being serious’ faces only made her laugh. “That’s not going to help either… Alcide?” Her answer sounded almost enough like a whine.
I leaned over and put my ear to the back of her phone to eavesdrop. “Sookie? What the crispy fuck happened?”
I grabbed her leg and it made her gasp. “I don’t know… I… I… I can’t handle this. It was crazy to think…”
“Try to calm down. Why did Eric leave?”
“The asshole that left first I guess.”
I started tickling her ribs, making her whimper and squirm. “We… we tried talking to Eric about getting back together… and he… Eric called his dad a sick fuck and tried to hit him… He thinks Eric is just taking advantage of me being crazy… I can’t handle this. I can’t…” She started slapping my arm and grunting to get away .
“Uh, you two are getting back together?” Leave it to Alcide…
“Not now we can’t! Oh God! Alcide… I can’t…” Eric joined the fun by licking his finger and rubbing it on her ear. It made her groan. Closing my eyes, I would’ve thought she was losing her grip… it was perfect.
“So Junior left then Eric or the other way around?”
“Eric first… He was so upset… You know how he is… He’s probably paced halfway to Texas by now…” A pinch behind Sookie’s knee made her squeak and elbow me. “When I tried to calm down Junior, he yelled that I needed to be locked up since I clearly lost my mind… he took off. Alcide, he took the car! He had the keys because he drove… He took the car and…”
“Where are you?”
“I’m… I’m… I walked for a while, hoping to find Eric… His legs are so long…” Nice touch.
“I ended up at Bamboo Garden?”
“I’m on my way.”
“I never should’ve left Jackson. This is what I was afraid of…”
“Go inside and try to calm down. I’ll be right there.”
As soon as Sookie hung up, we all laughed loud enough that the cooks stopped to stare at us though the pass.
We were still celebrating our fuckery when Alcide stormed through the door only to stop dead in his tracks as soon as he saw us sitting together.
“Fuck all you.”
We all laughed, getting the kitchen’s attention again. I held out a pair of chopsticks for him. “What the hell did you think was going to happen?”
He snatched them from me and plopped into the chair between me and Eric. “I needed stitches after my first trip. How the hell am I supposed to know?”
“If Sookie ever gets to meet Barb, she’s going to be insulted.”
“Emm already met her…” Sometimes it was too easy to distract him… I almost felt guilty.
“Uh-oh. Sorry to hear that. I had hopes for that one.”
“She didn’t get spooked off.”
“No shit?” 6 for 6.
“Barb stopped by the house Monday morning when I was leaving to take Emm home…”
“Way to take your time.”
“Three bottles of wine at dinner… Anyway, some shit about Belle leaving her laptop behind on Saturday.”
“And we’re pretending to believe that Belle didn’t tell on you for having a date?”
“No, but she denied being told anything… Barb got in Emm’s face and did that creepy disclaimer thing…”
Sookie interrupted with a mouth full of pad thai. “What disclaimer thing?”
“You know, when women run into an ex when they’re with someone… His friends come first. He’s bossy. He never puts the seat down… Anyway, Emm laughed at her and asked if Barb ever put the seat up then went and waited in the car.”
Sookie laughed, “I’ve gotta meet her.” No kidding.
Eric snorted with a whole dumpling in his mouth, “Y’all should double.”
Alcide shook his head. “I said, fuck all you. That shit isn’t funny. I was about to call Josh to get him to start looking for you jerk-offs. I’m glad I waited.” He thought that ‘we’ were just a part of the joke.
“What does that have to do with the fact that y’all should go out together. I have plans tonight anyway. Don’t worry, I can pay for my own sitter.”
Sookie narrowed her eyes at him. “You didn’t ask if you could go out. You don’t know Shreveport. When were you going to bother asking if you could go somewhere?”
“Tonight’s the first night of some ‘Jubilee’ thing at the fairgrounds. I looked it up. It’s legit…”
I confirmed for him with a nod. “Yearly carnival. Rides, games, fireworks. I’ve been a couple of times.”
“You’re fine with letting him go on a date. At his age?”
“I’m just listening to the proposal.”
She huffed. “Fine. Let’s hear it.”
Eric looked excited to get that far. “Chloe, the swimmer at Fintan from Joe’s Crab Shack… Her father is going to pick me up at the house at 7 so that he can meet y’all then drop us at the Jubilee. She’s going to introduce me to some of her friends from Fintan and Jason Jr. will be there so we’ll probably meet up with him… The Jubilee closes at 10 tonight so I’ll call for a cab and get her home by her 11 o’clock curfew and come straight back to the house for milk and cookies.”
“She’s a sophomore.”
“Her birthday is before the cut off and mine is right after. She’s only 4 months older than me.”
‘What are her grades like?”
“Good enough to stay on the swim team. They require a B minimum at Fintan. I checked.”
“Why doesn’t she have a license?”
“She does, but her parents got her a Vespa because they didn’t want her getting wrangled into being a cab service for her friends.”
Sookie gave me a look like she wanted me to be the bad guy. “Why tonight? How long has this been lined up?”
“She’s going to tour some campus with her older sister tomorrow. She wanted to wait until the weekend, but we leave for Jackson Friday morning. We started trying to work things out last night. She got the ok from her father this morning.”
“If the father gave a no, what then?”
“Mall crawling during the day next week.” The litte turd was enough like Sookie that he had an answer for everything.
Sookie looked at me again and I gave her a shrug. I didn’t have a single reason to shoot him down.
“He’s too young.”
“You and I were both dating when we were his age.”
“That was different.”
“Our parents didn’t care about us.” She had me there.
“Do you see what I’m getting at then?”
“No. I’m agreeing with you that our parents didn’t care. I don’t see the harm. It’s not much different from a school dance… He’s aligned transportation to a public event and has a cell phone so he can call us if something happens. He might not know Shreveport, but his date does. He’s conscious of curfews and after we go to dinner, we’ll go to the Jubilee too. We probably won’t run into him because it’s huge, but the possibility might encourage good behavior.” He cringed, but I winked at him. Cell phones were a beautiful thing, they could make ‘running into each other’ guaranteed… or impossible.
She growled. “What would you do if he was an Erica?”
“I’d be insisting on meeting the boy’s parents and interviewing him on the way to the fairgrounds.”
“I don’t like it.”
“What’s not to like? He’s growing up. His first date is a milestone, right?”
She gave Alcide a dirty look. He’d been completely silent, just watching our back and forth. “You too?”
He immediately grabbed an eggroll and shoved the whole thing into his mouth. He started mumbling incoherently with the wad of masticated slop in his mouth. Not a word was understandable and his expression was neutral.
Sookie laughed at him, “Chicken shit.”
He finally swallowed the diversionary eggroll. “If you didn’t want my opinion, you shouldn’t have asked.” He’d been inspired by a fucking Twix commercial… and he’d been using the ‘stuff & mumble’ technique ever since. Belle was never amused.
Sookie groaned, “Fine. But it’s probationary. This doesn’t mean that it’s just a given that he can fill his calendar without talking to us… I’m going to the bathroom so y’all can celebrate your victory. You’ve got 5 minutes to wipe those cocky ‘I Win’ smiles off your faces…” She stood up, grabbing her purse. As she stomped away, she muttered to herself, “My baby… growing up… too fast… dating… he thinks he’s ready… I’m not ready…”
We barely held it until the swinging door to the restrooms rocked shut…