Sookie and I moved to the lanai with a couple glasses of tea while she made me feel better about my talk with Eric by the second…
When she first said that she’d heard the whole conversation I worried that she’s pick it apart… I had told Eric that she was ‘young’ her first time. I was worried that she’d just be more anxious in general because one more thing had been crossed off the checklist of things before he hit adulthood.
She sat down with a loud sigh. “I would have screwed that up 7 ways to Sunday.”
“You think? Because he’s a he or…”
“No. I’d have cried… and told him sex is overrated… and messy… and I can think of a hundred words that would’ve gotten stuck in my throat… You rocked it…”
“There’s still a lot to talk about though…”
“But he trusts you…” She sighed and tilted her head to watch the ceiling fan. “…If he wasn’t my baby… If he was just some other kid, I’d say that since he knows the mechanics of it all and knows to use protection that at least he has someone he can turn to to talk about particulars. That he knows more than a lot of kids his age.”
“But since he’s ours?”
“Since he’s ours, I can’t help but think about what I was doing when I was his age. How stupid I was. How many times I was lucky…”
“No kidding… you could’ve produced Herveaux spawn.”
She laughed dryly, “What the hell happened? I don’t get how Belle can be that bad.”
“Barb wasn’t always a bitch. She was alright for a few years. Alcide told me that he wasn’t sure what he wanted to do because he just didn’t like her anymore. He tried talking to her about it. She became a she-best overnight and started using Belle to get back at him for not loving her anymore.”
“So she still loves him?”
“She’s made it pretty clear that she hates him… I’ve run into her a couple of times, you know, the kidswap… she either wants him to die or has napalm on her tampon.”
She giggled. “Don’t make me laugh. That’s sad.”
“He doesn’t care how Barb feels about him… What bothers him is how Belle is. She was daddy’s little girl until he moved out. She’s 8. He wants her to act 8… He wants to spoil her, but she wants to be doted on like a girlfriend. It’s twisted and he’s worried about her.”
“How long has it been?”
“You’d know better than me… how long is he likely to stick with this Emm woman? Is he still a dog?”
“Not really. Not anymore. He holds interviews often, but he actually hires someone once in a while. There’s hope for Emm. She’s already made it through the big filters.”
“You just held interviews though.”
I nodded, not finding any reason to hide anything. “I must be picky. I couldn’t find anyone right for the job.”
“I can’t believe you were honest with Eric about that… I would’ve lied.”
“I’m not going to lie to him.”
“I know… I’m saying… I would’ve screwed that up too. I’d have been afraid if I told him, he’d either think I’m a slut or a prude. I’d have told him that it was none of his business.”
“You could’ve told him more than one, less than a hundred… Like you told me.”
She gave a little snort… “Yeah. Same thing. I was afraid if I gave you an actual number…” Like it mattered. She’d given me an ‘actual number’ by the time we’d been together for a week. It had been another common ground. We’d been on a level playing field since we had both been with ‘more than 5, less than 10’ partners. We had an idea of what we liked and what we wanted to try…
“It’s kind funny that you’re so bashful when it comes to talking about sex… Considering.”
“Considering that you ran barefoot to the bodega across from the bookstore to get rubbers and then dragged me back to your dorm.”
She laughed, “You’re never going to let me live that down, are you? I was drunk on MSG.”
“You can’t blame MSG for that. You’d been teasing me for hours.”
She smirked, but she didn’t say anything. She was poking the ice in her glass and I was about to jokingly ask if we should discourage Eric from going to Chinese restaurants with dates when we were distracted.
The loud groan that came from inside the house made us both worry that he’d hurt himself somehow…
He followed the pained noise with a long line of insults and pseudo-cursing as his voice got closer…
Sookie didn’t get the chance to ask what was wrong… As soon as we could see Eric coming our way, he grumbled, “Now those assholes are saying that with a bigger party, we’re required to hire a bartender so that the bar in the hotel isn’t overrun with our guests. The woman isn’t listening to me.” He was holding the phone out to me. He wanted me to fix it.
I took the phone from him, feeling more than a little thrilled. “Tell me that you didn’t yell like that while she was listening.”
He shook his head. “I put her on hold first… This is BS. She’s either trying to push us off because she doesn’t want to deal with 50 teenagers, or she’s price gouging. Her name’s Ann. Ann Pruden.”
I gave him a nod and took a second to figure out how to take the call from ‘hold’ to ‘speaker’. “Miss Pruden.”
“Yes, it’s in the standard contract for a party of 100 or more… I can fax a copy to you if you’d like so that you can show it to your father.” I was surprised that Eric hadn’t mentioned how snotty she was earlier.
“You have the father on the phone now. Eric Northman. How is it that you’re requiring a bartender to be used at a function for teens?”
“Oh… uh… it’s standard. The hotel management doesn’t want the additional traffic in the bar to hinder service there for normal customers.”
“Do you frequently serve alcohol to minors?”
“No sir. Never. But there will be chaperones in attendance.”
“And the chaperones are only in place to supervise the party, not have one themselves. And you know that we won’t actually have 100 guests, that we only agreed to catering for that many because you were being difficult about service.”
“Another hotel policy, sir…”
“And certainly not because all reservations, deposits and arrangements were made by a teenager and charged to an AmEx Black card, right?”
“Of course not…”
“And clearly not because our event is only 4 days away, so we’d have no choice but to comply to policy that I will be talking to management about when we arrive, right?”
“I’m quite sure that management wouldn’t thrust a bartender at a teenager any more than they would force one into the contract for an Al-Anon fundraiser or a religious gathering.”
“I’m only doing my job, sir…”
“You seem to be doing your job based on the belief that you’re making party arrangements for a boy who managed to find his father’s credit card and have some fun. You clearly weren’t expecting to speak to an adult and you obviously had something else in mind when you mentioned Eric showing a faxed contract to someone.”
“I can let you speak to my supervisor, sir, but I can tell you that he was leery of allowing the event in the first place.”
“And why is that? Would they have a problem with a Bar Mitzfah?”
“Of course not…”
“Book the bartender.”
“The party has a Mardi Gras theme. Make sure he has plenty of blenders and fruit because he’ll be making virgin Hurricanes, Daiquiris and Coladas all night. If I see the first bottle of liquor in vicinity of the room, there will be hell to pay. I won’t argue with you over the phone. I’ll deal with you and your supervisor when I get to the hotel… Now that we have a bartender on the contract, is there anything else you’d like to force onto the tab or are you done trying to con my son into extra expenses?”
“There is the question of the cake your son mentioned. We aren’t in the practice of allowing outside food…”
“I’m not budging. You won’t be getting a bakery order out of us. He’s made arrangements to have his own brought in and you’ll allow it just like you would allow a bride to have a cake brought in.”
“It’s not a cake though…”
“In the spirit of simplicity, the boy opted for cupcakes, made at his favorite bakery… that incidentally, has delivered several wedding cakes to your hotel. You’ll allow it. Is there anything else?”
“We could be held responsible for…”
“Make sure there’s a form available for me to sign when we arrive so that I can take responsibility for anyone who might contract cupcake poisoning.”
“That’s just insulting.”
“I was thinking the same thing. Are we done?”
“Uh… Ummm… Yes. I think so.”
“Good. We’ll be checking in around noon on Friday. I’ll be looking for you.”
Eric took his phone back from me and stared while Sookie snickered. “What?”
He sat on the chaise across from us. “You should’ve been in the mob or something.”
Sookie broke into a full laugh. “Alcide always called it the ‘Diaper Tone’… Anyone who didn’t pee their pants when he talked to them like that, had to be brain-dead.”
Eric added, “Do you pay any of your employees or are they just afraid to not show up?”
“It’s not scary. It’s just serious.” It was the same tone that Sookie made fun of me for using.
Sookie giggled. “It’s not that scary on the phone, but I’m DYING to see the look on her face when she sees the giant that voice is attached to.”
Eric laughed, “Me too! We can’t let him out of our sight until he talks to her Friday. I don’t want to miss it.”
Sookie nodded. “I’m not planning on missing it either. Between him and Alcide, she might cry.”
“I’m not going to make her cry!” Not on purpose anyway…
When they were both done laughing instead of arguing or placing bets on how long it took before Ann Pruden was in tears, everything became quiet…
I was comfortable in it until I realized that Sookie and Eric were locked in a long stare.
Eric was the one to fill the silence. “So what did y’all do on your first date?” We ate more Chinese food than humanly possible before going back to your mom’s dorm room to fuck our way through half a box of Magnums. Thanks for asking in front of her.
Sookie was glowing like she’d been slapped and her mouth was hanging open because she didn’t know how to answer, leaving me to do it. “We didn’t do a lot of dating. We didn’t have the money for it. We spent most of our time together in our dorm rooms and hanging out at the bookstore after hours.”
I nodded. “We were simple creatures back then. We had a friend that worked at Blockbuster so we didn’t have to pay to rent movies as long as we had them back before her shift was over. The first time we made plans to spend time together wasn’t a date, it was a study group… the first time we went out together, just the two of us, we went to see REM because Sookie won tickets for being the 92nd caller to the radio station… By then, we’d been together for a couple of months though.”
Sookie added, “I’m not sure that we ever went out on an actual ‘dinner/movie’ type of date… When we went out, we studied or went with friends. We were just fine with hanging out.”
“What about the road trips?”
Sookie giggled. “Ok… A- the road trips weren’t my cup of tea. I used to get carsick… B- they were usually school/research related… C- we almost always had a run in with cops or homeowners.”
“Because we were trespassing and taking pictures… Neither of us wanted to go home for Thanksgiving… he talked me into driving up to Martha’s freaking Vineyard to take pictures of the houses…”
I added, “That’s where the honeysuckle and glass came from… There’s a house up there, right on the water. The house is bland as hell from the front, but the backside has a big conservatory type of room. You can barely tell there’s glass under the honeysuckle that had taken over the back, but it’s beautiful from the inside…”
“They let you in?”
“Your mother broke in.”
Sookie slapped my arm as he yelled, “What!?”
I laughed, “There wasn’t a bit of furniture in sight through any of the windows. Your mother, tiny as she is, managed to get in through a dog door… We spent the night there. We got to see the whole house and realized that the only remarkable part of the house was the conservatory… It had gone kind of wild since the owners had left. The honeysuckle had managed to find a way in through some cracks.” It had rained that night and Sookie loved the sound of the rain on the glass.
“Just the one night. I found a great deal on a car rental and we stayed in a cheap motel for the other night. That’s what we usually did. It was fun… It was a lot of fun.”
Sookie smiled as she nodded. “As soon as we were where we were going, I was fine… I just couldn’t handle sitting in the car for too long before I was miserable… Pennsylvania was my favorite trip.”
“Alcide went with us to Virginia… We went to Monticello and Mount Vernon… and stopped at Biltmore Estates on the way back. That was a fun trip too.”
“Where all did you guys go?”
Sookie hummed. “A few places close to school… the longer trips were New York City, Martha’s Vineyard, The Hamptons, DC, we spent most of the trip to Pennsylvania in Philadelphia, but we really went for the Wrights. Fallingwater.”
I nodded. “We never got to Chicago… or the rest of the list.”
Eric looked confused. “List?”
“We wanted to go to all of the Frank Lloyd Wright structures we could find. We only got to about 35.”
“Out of more than 500?”
“We were collecting them… like baseball cards.”
“For building dorks.”
I nodded. “Baseball cards for building dorks. I own that.”
“If I’m Eric Gehry, why weren’t y’all collecting Gehry buildings?”
“The list is shorter… and because we’re dorks… we were planning on ‘collecting’ his European structures for our honeymoon. Spain, Germany, England, Czech Republic, Switzerland…”
Sookie finished, “And we were saving California for a special occasion too.”
Eric nodded with a weird look on his face. “I have heard both of y’all make fun of Sci-Fi nerds… Never again. Seriously. Y’all are crazy dorky about that crap.”
“I have pictures… hundreds… The albums are in a box in the bottom of the closet in my office.”
“Yeah? Is there any of y’all or just your house-porn?”
“Both… There’s pictures of us mixed in with the ‘house-porn’… Graduation, parties, all kinds of stuff… Wiseass.”
He snorted as he got up. “I’m not going to find anything in there that’s going to scar me for life, am I?”
“No. But stay out of the box of videos next to it.”
Sookie laughed almost hysterically, because she knew better while Eric gagged and wretched at the idea of finding actual porn starring his parents.
Even as we looked through the albums, Sookie repeated over and over that she couldn’t believe that I’d kept them… She was even more surprised that I’d added to them… When I unpacked in Shreveport, I found more than a dozen undeveloped rolls in one of our boxes… and our camera had a roll that was half used.
It was the first time she’d seen some of the pictures, while I didn’t need to look at them. Not only did I have them all memorized, but I realized after just a few pages that I was more interested in Eric and Sookie’s reactions to them. I could’ve forgotten that the pictures were being looked at. Since I finally had Sookie, I didn’t feel as attached to the books anymore… At one point, they would’ve been the first thing I would’ve thought of if my house caught fire… Eric and Sookie probably thought I was smiling over memories, but I was grinning, ear to ear, like a stoned idiot while I enjoyed my new priorities.
I hadn’t had the chance to go through the pictures and get rid of any of the pictures that included Barry, but Sookie took seeing him in the pictures surprisingly well… While Eric was in the shower, she explained that he was ‘supposed to be in the pictures’. Seeing him in her car after work and when she passed by empty offices is what made her ‘nuts’.
In an effort to keep Eric’s appetite from scaring the hell out of Chloe, Sookie made a mountain of leftovers for the boy to eat before he left… like it would keep him from stopping at every food vendor at the Jubilee.
Her nerves were on edge and she was keeping herself busy… once his food was waiting for him on the bar, Sookie moved to the laundry room to fold the load in the dryer…
As cute as it was, I was worried that her anxiety would make Eric nervous about his date… My old fail-safe… I went to my office and grabbed a sketch book and my tins of Prismacolors and graphites and led her to the kitchen to sit her at the bar. It was the equivalent of pacifying a kid with crayons and a paper place-mat at a restaurant. She stuck her tongue out at me, but she still dumped them out on the counter like she always had in the past and started drawing as soon as I gave her the assignment of ‘pool ideas’.
I leaned in behind her to whisper in her ear, “There used to only be two things that made you this cagey.” Paying bills and being out of rubbers.
She giggled and kissed my cheek. “Tell me about it… Thanks.”
I picked up one pencil while she grabbed another, and while I started plotting out the yard with my left hand, she started filling the void with her right. We’d brainstormed our way through more projects than I could remember like that. She’d been around for every bit of my talks with Eric about concepts for the pool… he wanted something amorphous without being ‘too wacky’, he wanted to do another waterfall, he suggested a hot tub ‘as a joke’, but Sookie mentioned that during soccer season he could soak away some of the bruises he always got…
Sookie and I came up with a dozen variations to fill the time and when Eric came downstairs and saw what we were up to, he slid his plate closer to watch. He shoveled food into his mouth while he added ideas or gave his opinion of ideas we’d already drawn before he flipped over a sketch of a rejected idea and put his fork in his right hand… God forbid he put it down.
“Is the chimney for the fireplace hiding any supports?”
I shook my head. “No. It’s not load bearing… What are you thinking?”
I only had a fraction of his attention between his drawing and his food as he answered, “It’s in the way.”
Sookie shook her head. “You can’t just get rid of the fireplace though…”
“Not really get rid of it… Hang on…”
Sookie and I kept working on the drawing we had in progress while he put his idea down on paper… and then grabbed another rejection to flip it over and use the back of that one… He referred back to our drawings a few times and he drew until he was done eating…
He pushed his first drawing over to us… it was relatively accurate perspective of the lanai as it already was. “Alright, here’s what we’ve got to work with now, right? 25 by 50ish?” Good eye.
I nodded. “23 by 48.”
“K. You’ve got that fireplace. About 8 feet wide and sitting slam in the middle… right now, you aren’t missing anything because the yard is boring as hell, but you put a pool in, you’re gonna want to enjoy the view, right?”
Sookie and I both nodded.
He nodded and started drawing over the sketch.
He exed out the fireplace and drew a circle over it… “Replace the fireplace with a firepit because it won’t obstruct the view…”
He extended the lines of the steps down from the lanai… “Add some curves to the shape of the lanai so that the curves of the pool don’t seem out of place…”
He scribbled out a small countertop area at the west end of the lanai… “And if you borrow the plumbing from the bathroom in the den, you can run water to a sink for a small summer kitchen area for cookouts and give the bathroom an exterior entrance to use as a changing area so you don’t have to worry about air conditioning the great outdoors…”
Sookie snorted out a laugh. “Do you have any ideas for the pool or just how to change his house?”
He scowled at her and slid his other drawing over to her as he huffed his way around the bar to rinse his dish.
Sookie tried backpedaling because she’d hurt his feelings, but I was stuck studying his drawing… His actual idea, not the ‘red pen’ version…
The firepit was sunken in at floor level to the lanai and the steps had been given soft curves that ended in a flourish that resembled the head of a violin… the summer kitchen was a simple addition that I could easily see us using…
He’d borrowed the various ideas we’d had for the pool to detail the yard… he’d picked the more triangular version of the pools that Sookie envisioned so that Eric could swim laps along the long side and placed it at an angle, tucking a tall mound of landscaping and rock in the corner closer to Compton’s property so that the waterfall could offer some privacy from our creepy neighbors… the hot tub was married to the pool, only separated by a narrow tiled wall… and he’d practically fired himself because the bulk of what was left of the lawn was bricked over with flagstones that mirrored the lanai… right up to the edge of the extended koi pond, since it seemed like he wanted the whole school in the same place…
I wasn’t sure what I was interrupting when I shoved the picture at Sookie. “It’s perfect.”
“What?” Neither one of them expected me to be so willing to change the house.
“I love it. It’s perfect…”
Eric shook his head. “You’re serious? All of it?”
I nodded. I couldn’t have been more serious. “If we get elevations drawn and details picked out, I can have Tara pull everyone together. We could be planting the landscaping in two weeks.”
He raised his eyebrow at me. “There isn’t a single thing about that sketch that you don’t like?”
I guessed he thought I was having a ‘chip off the old block’ moment and trying to push him into an architecture niche by being hyper supportive. “I don’t like the extended patio. The way it’s drawn, the lack of transition is ‘off’… It looks like we couldn’t afford enough stones… I think we could come up with a more natural transition between the lawn and the patio.”
“I love the fire pit. The placement, the way it’s part of the stairs… flawless.”
“You should talk to Claudia about how queer you are to follow my lead. You didn’t get to do any fun stuff with me when I was little, but you never got to tell me no either.” The funny part about what he said was that he was completely serious.
“Truth of the matter is that I’d probably do whatever you wanted in the yard, but ask your mom about the last time I took someone’s suggestions about one of my designs… I don’t care who you are, I’d tell you to kiss my ass if I didn’t like your idea.”
Sookie nodded in agreement as she looked over his drawing as intently as I had. “He would too… Alcide’s lucky to have all 10 fingers… That bathroom would have to be rearranged to compensate for the door… Eric, could you stand to lose 6 feet of the lanai to just make a new one?”
I gritted my teeth at the idea so she pointed at me and laughed out a ‘see, I told ya’ before I could answer.
Eric started shaking his head. “No. That would look stupid. It would scream ‘after market’. It wouldn’t fit the house… it’d be better to not have the option than to screw up the house’s aesthetics…”
I gave him a grateful nod. “Thank you.”
Eric continued, “No. Just… an area rug and runner between the back panels and the laundry room. That’ll keep folks from busting their ass and we can roll it up when we aren’t using it. The house will look fine.”
Sookie looked back to see me smiling, then to Eric, back again… “You two are a freakin’ riot. I’ll just mind my own business.”
“Mom! Don’t be like that. Damn… You know we’re right.”
She nodded. “Yep. You’re both conceptually infallible. There’s no point in me getting in y’alls way.”
We both opened our mouths at the same time. “Don’t pout.”
She started cackling. “I wasn’t pouting… I was just thinking that there were too many cooks in the kitchen…”
When the doorbell interrupted her, all three of us checked the time on the microwave…
Eric’s date was early…