As the reception clerk slid our key cards across the marble counter, I surveyed the navy and steel colored Antebellum cliché lobby of the Garrison Arms Hotel. “Ann Pruden is expecting me. Would you mind telling her that I’m waiting, please?”
The ‘reservation specialist’ nodded, never changing her plastic grin as she lifted the receiver to call the Special Events Agent who’d pissed in my cornflakes only an hour before.
Sookie’s grip on my hand tightened and she leaned over to whisper, “Are you sure you want to do this?”
“I can just rally the troops and set up at the house… Eric can call everyone he can’t text to change the…”
“Eric, it’s not worth getting all spun up over.”
“Yes it is.”
Belle and Eric had switched cars when we’d stopped for the same strawberry cheesecake ice cream that Eric made me stop for on the way back from Jackson last week. Belle wanted to enjoy the AC since Alcide had the top off of his Jeep and Eric wanted to try driving a 4×4… we lost them when we were gridlocked because of an overturned milk truck. If they were too far behind, they’d have called. When Ann Pruden called Eric’s phone that he’d accidently left in the back seat, she thought she was talking to him and quickly recited the clause of the contract that gave her and the hotel the right to cancel any event for any reason. I would’ve corrected her, but that would’ve taken the fun out of speaking to her in person.
Belle looked up at me on the verge of rolling her eyes. “Is this going to be like when I got lost on that field trip?” Sookie’s eyes widened.
I grumbled at her. “You have a big mouth.” Just like her father.
She meandered to a bench upholstered in depressing blue shantung and pulled her overpriced hobo purse into her lap as she sat. “I know. I get it from my dad… Are you?” At least she owned it.
Sookie asked Belle instead of me, “What did he do?”
“I got left behind because I was in the bathroom. Daddy had Eric go get me because he was on site… Eric made Mr. Kotalick cry.”
Sookie squeezed my hand again. “Eric, seriously. It’s not that big of a deal…”
“He left a 7 year old in a museum and didn’t realize it until they were back at the school. He deserved it…”
“I meant the party. We can make other arrangements.”
“No. Eric worked his ass off to put it all together. He’s earned this.”
“There’s no talking you out of it?”
“Is there any chance I can talk you into having a couple of drinks so you’ll calm down a little?” Before noon?
She let go of my hand, but she stepped closer to me. “Then give me a kiss now. I’m not kissing that nasty Plexiglas in the visitation booth in county lockup.”
As pissed as I was, I still chuckled and bent to kiss her.
“Eric?” The voice was too baritone to be Ann Pruden… Grandma, what a deep voice you have.
Sookie went to join Belle when I turned to greet the man behind the voice. He looked like a Tim Burton creation. Large front teeth, narrow face with high cheek bones and freakishly large eyes of a nondescript color. Instead of taking his offered hand to shake it, I counted his companions. Three men of average size wearing bland blue blazers that didn’t fit them any better than the intimidating stances they hadn’t practiced well enough… #5 of the party was trying to hide behind the rest of the welcome wagon. It was none other than Ann Pruden. Short, curly rust colored hair, mousy features under a pair of glasses with lenses so big that they looked like they’d been salvaged from a deorbitted satellite.
The rat-faced man finally gave up his attempt to shake my hand. “I’m Greg Childers. I’m the Manager of Operations here at the Garrison.”
Sookie leaned over to whisper to Belle, “Here he goes.”
“Good. I’m not willing to deal with Ann Pruden any further. Tell me, do you always address irate clients by first name like you know them?”
“Is your hotel in the practice of canceling contracts less than 12 hours before an event?”
“Since your contract clearly states that your staff has the right to refuse, reject and cancel a contract, but in turn obliges said staff to notify the client in writing within 5 working days, do you mind explaining why your employee took it upon herself to breach contract via a phone call with 9 hours and 3 minutes before my event is to commence?”
“Did she bother explaining any of the reasons why I might be belligerent before she had you and your sidekicks rush to her defense?”
“She mentioned that she canceled your event because she suspects…”
“That what? I’m sick of getting a run around from someone who’d be willing to book a party with a boy when she thought he’d stolen his father’s credit card until she found out that said boy had full authorization to plan the event. She insisted upon padding our expense by refusing to serve a buffet to 50, thus forcing us to pay for 100 then further siphoning the cost of a bartender because with an event for 100, rather than the true 50 mind you, we were required to book that as well. She disputed the arrangements we made for cake. Our photographer canceled when he realized what hotel, more specifically who he’d be dealing with. Ann Pruden was unprofessional enough to patronize me when she thought she was speaking to a minor by telling me that she didn’t care what color my daddy’s AmEx card is, she wasn’t in the mood to babysit.”
“Mr. Northman, your son posed as you when making arrangements with Ms. Pruden.”
“He did not. I was in the room with him when he left the initial voicemail for her. He explained that he is moving to Shreveport and that his parents were letting him arrange for a farewell party with his friends from school. He explained that chaperones would include his mother, father, and three close family friends. He not only left his cell number, but mine and his mother’s… What’s more, if that were at all true, then she might have mentioned her concerns when I spoke to her on Tuesday.”
“You spoke to her on Tuesday?”
“During the same call where I informed her the bartender would be serving virgin hurricanes and nothing more, yes. I had to identify myself because my son sounds like me on the phone.”
“What was said?”
“That the bartender would be the last of the additions I’d allow since we were getting the distinct impression that she was exaggerating the policies of your establishment in an effort to take advantage of the child coordinating the event. Did it not occur to you that there was a hole in her story since, I’m sure, it wouldn’t be in the practice of a prominent hotel’s events office to allow a child to make arrangements for a bartender?”
“Do you mind if I ask why you’d let a boy plan a party on his own?” As an outlet and a distraction from all of strangeness of our new situation. I’d wanted more than anything to jump on Eric’s bandwagon to help him, but when Claudia mentioned that he needed a healthy hobby, I shifted my involvement and decided to be supportive instead. Sookie and I just hoped that he wouldn’t go back to being angry as soon as the party was behind him…
“Yes, I do mind. It doesn’t matter in the least why he was planning the party. What matters to me is that my son spent countless hours planning a party. He did everything and from what I can gather the only mistake he made was choosing this hotel. Even that doesn’t matter. Your employee has a faxed contact, signed by me…”
“Sir, Ms. Pruden…”
“I’ve already told you that I’m not dealing with her any longer. I don’t care what reasons she could have for trying to cancel Eric’s party. It’s moot. She didn’t conform to the cancelation policy, therefore, there hasn’t been a cancelation.”
“We’re expecting 50 guests in just a few hours. We have things to do. You’re wasting my time.”
“You’re money will be refunded…”
“No. It won’t. Unless you want to spend the next few months up to your cheap tie in legalities and depositions, you’re going to stop trying to save face so that my son’s party can proceed as per the contract. Not only do you stand to lose our money as guests, but I’ll make sure that you’ll hemorrhage thousands in legal fees BEFORE I sue for damages. I’m sure you can imagine how expensive the event could become once we start scrambling to make last minute arrangements to relocate it… and believe me, I’m prepared to itemize every single cell phone minute we have to use in my law suit. Feel free to admonish your less than ethical employee, but do it later. You are on my time now.”
“Sir…” He wasn’t getting it.
“Try to wrap your head around this. I gave my 15 year old son my credit card and permission to do his worst. Do you think for a second that I wouldn’t enjoy spending more on legal fees than what the eventual payout would be? We have a contract. Are you choosing to not honor it?”
He scowled, finally realizing that I wasn’t backing down. “No.”
“Good. I’ll be expecting a written apology from Ann Pruden for her lack of professionalism before we check out on Sunday. If I see her anywhere near my son, his guests or the actual event, I’ll be calling my lawyer.”
He was asking what I expected him to do when I saw Eric and Alcide come in through the revolving door. I’d been tempted to not tell him how much trouble Ms. Pruden had been, but since the little Alcidette had witnessed the whole thing, there wasn’t much point in damage control. She’d tell him eventually.
His arms were folded and his fists were clenched underneath by the time he reached me. “What’s going on?”
I smiled at him and patted his shoulder. “We were just waiting for you. Now that I’ve explained to management how difficult Ms. Pruden has been, Mr. Childers was about to give us a tour.” Childers opened his mouth, but he closed it instead of arguing more since that hadn’t been going very well for him.
Eric looked confused, but he still relaxed a little. “Really?”
I nodded. “Mr. Childers, lead the way.”
He still hadn’t gotten the full explanation, but it didn’t keep Eric from adopting my posture during our walkthrough of the facilities. Any word that wasn’t synonymous to ‘intimidating’ would’ve been epically inappropriate. Every question he had was asked in a stern tone. Every move he made was deliberate. Every answer he gave was laced with unmistakable seriousness.
When the bathrooms were pointed out to us, Eric went in to inspect each one and informed Mr. Childers that housekeeping needed to be sent to make the ‘ladies’ look less like a truck stop.
We watched him start searching behind curtains, scrutinizing until the manager asked him what he was looking for. He explained that he was looking for outlets so that he could let the DJ know where to set up as though he was annoyed to be interrupted.
He finally got close enough for it to be called a conversational distance and used his hands to orchestrate, rattling off directions of where the staff was to arrange everything…
He asked for directions to the kitchen to make sure of the catering and I almost laughed when management tried to convince Eric that the kitchen knew what they were doing. My son, MY SON told him, “Because Ms. Pruden sets the precedent for professionalism, right? Pardon me for not leaving it to chance that your caterers can be trusted to do their job.” I couldn’t have said it better myself.
Sookie had given me more than a few amused looks, pointing at me and mouthing, ‘yours’. All I could do was smile. Not letting anyone get away with taking advantage of me was how I managed to claw my way out of the cesspool I’d grown up in. Seeing that naiveté hadn’t been part of his sheltered upbringing made me proud of Sookie. Seeing that Eric seemed to have inherited my philosophy that respect was earned rather than given made me proud of him.
As we followed along, Alcide rolled his eyes to whisper to Sookie, “God help us all. The little shit’s just like his old man.”
“You say that like it’s a bad thing.” Eric and I had said it the same time… Alcide and Sookie thought it was hilarious that we proved the point.
Once Childers left to put Eric’s plans (orders) into motion, we started for our rooms.
Eric only waited long enough for the elevator doors to close before he asked for the details of the conversation that he missed…
The amusing part was that once we were off of the elevator, he didn’t take his key card from me until I was done reiterating and he was done rearguing the points I’d already made.
I shared a spanikopita with Belle (and made fun of Alcide because he was a cry baby about spinach) while Sookie and Eric ate two each. At least Sookie had only ordered one entrée for herself. Eric had plowed through more than half of his gyro platter, souvlaki platter and mousaka with one hand (because he was texting with his other) before he said much of anything to us.
“Hey Belle, what are you wearing tonight?”
She shrugged. “I dunno. Why?”
“Just wondering. I’m looking at Twitter and most of the girls are going a little nuts over the Mardi Gras theme… wearing purple or green, getting together to do some face painting. You know, like masks and stuff. I bet my friend Sadie will bring her kit and do your makeup if you want.”
She looked like she’d been slapped, maybe like she wanted to slap someone else. “I… I didn’t know I was invited… I… I just brought like shorts and stuff.”
“Well, yeah… It’s not like I was going to leave you to hang out with old people all night… What size do you wear? I bet we could find something…”
Alcide looked surprised that Eric would include her. “Don’t worry about it. We have time to find a mall.”
Belle gave Alcide a skeptical look and leaned away from him. “Who are you and what did you do with my father? You’re going to let me go to a party?”
“A party I’m chaperoning? Sure.”
“Are you going to embarrass me?”
“Probably no more than usual.”
“Are you going to make me wear a potato sack?”
“If you keep it up, you can watch TV in our room instead.”
She rolled her eyes. “Sorrrrrrry. You don’t usually volunteer to take me shopping.”
“You usually don’t give me the chance before you boost my wallet and run out the door with my car keys. I don’t mind taking you shopping. I mind that you’re a shithead about it.”
Eric washed a mouthful down with most of a glass of tea. “And uh… none of that spoiled brat bullshit around my friends. I go to private school, but it isn’t one of those pretentious asshole schools. They do scholarships based on academics and sports. Half of my friends have blue collar parents…”
She cringed. “Ew…”
He raised his eyebrows and snorted. “You know what, nevermind. If you’re going to act like a snobbish turd, then you can stay in your room…”
“No! I’ll behave. I swear!”
“If you embarrass me, me and the rest of the soccer team will carry you out faster…”
“I get it… I’ll behave. Promise.”
“No short skirts. It has to pass the fingertip test. And no heels higher than your thumb.”
“What?” She didn’t seem as bothered as she was surprised.
“My old school’s dress code. The party’s at a hotel. I put the dress code in the invite so my friend’s parents wouldn’t think it was some kind of hook up party… I wanted my friends to actually show up. Besides, you’re 8. High heels and short skirts would make you look like a midget call girl. Dress your age.”
“What’s wrong with how I dress?”
Sookie and I braced ourselves when Eric actually put his phone and his fork down. “Right now or in general?”
She scowled at him. “Right now.”
“Do you want the red carpet or street opinion?”
She growled. “Street.” Alcide snorted and warned her quietly that he was ‘an Eric’ and still ‘in a mood’. He was still in character for calibrating and micromanaging…
“Fine. You asked for it. Ready?” It was almost cruel to watch him build her up, knowing that he was about to tear her down… But I was anxious to see Belle’s reaction to hearing it all from someone she considered a peer. Even if Eric was nearly twice her age, the 30 year age gap had completely voided Alcide’s opinion.
“Your shorts are too tight…”
“They fit just fine.”
“Are you really going to be ‘that person’ who asks for an opinion and rejects it line by line? You can listen or you can run your yap, but I’m going to keep going anyway… Just because you can barely close the fly on them, doesn’t mean they fit. Snug is fine, but yours are so many sizes from what you actually wear, you have a muffin top which makes you look fat even though you aren’t. Your tank top would actually look great on my mom, maybe even yours, but it’s proportioned to fit an adult woman’s body so the arm holes and front hit you in the wrong places. You’re 8 years old and wearing a bra you don’t need, with obvious padding no one needs. Your flip flops have a two inch cork platform that makes it look like you strapped phone books to your feet and they make you walk like you have a birth defect. Your makeup looks like you had it done by drag queens. When you picked your outfit I’m sure you were just trying to look older, but it looks like you played dress-up out of a hooker’s suitcase.” Alcide turned towards me, biting his lip to fight back the urge to laugh until he managed to pull himself together.
Belle hadn’t let herself cry, but she wasn’t far from it. “You’re a boy though. You can’t understand fashion…”
He rolled his eyes. “What do I understand then?”
“K. How about this? Just because it costs more, doesn’t make it fit better. You can make your dad buy your love and still look your age.”
“That’s not what I’m doing.”
He shrugged and picked up his fork. “If you say so.”
While Belle was still willing Eric to choke on his food, Alcide got directions to Sookie’s favorite mall…
And Sookie and I were delegated… our mission, if we chose to accept it, was to retrieve Eric’s yearbook and the outfit he wanted to wear to the party from their house.
Alcide and I were waiting just outside of the bathrooms for Sookie and Belle since Eric had already run off to tend to his party… and I was given a dirty look.
“Do you want me to make him apologize to Belle?”
He shook his head. “No. I’m dying to see if anything he RE-told her sunk in.”
“Then why the ‘fuck you’ face?”
“You didn’t tell me that you and Sookie are back together.”
“Yes we did. You just assumed it was part of the joke. That isn’t our fault.”
“Did you mean for me to assume?”
“No… I guess it should’ve occurred to us though since you haven’t been giving either of us a hard time.”
“Was that an apology?”
“I don’t know. Should it be?”
“Yeah. Yeah, I think so… You knew she was fine for a week without telling me and I had to walk in on you two to know you’re sleeping together.”
“Ok. I’m sorry then.”
“And the last I heard, you were denying wanting to get back with her.”
“Actually, I was refusing to talk about it. You know better than to think I wouldn’t have wanted to.”
“When did y’all start sleeping together?”
“When?” Being all but married to him for so long, I knew that if he wasn’t easily baited away from a topic to joke around meant that he was too serious about the subject matter.
“She hasn’t slept in the guest bedroom at all… We talked about being a couple again last weekend.”
“So you did just jump right back into the saddle.”
“Sort of. Is that a problem for you?”
“Yes, it’s a big fucking problem for me. It’s nice to see you actually happy and all, but if everything falls to shit because you two retards want to pretend the last 16 years didn’t happen, I’m stuck pouring your ass into bed again. For how long next time? Until you wallow to death?”
“You know, you’re one to talk. What the fuck would you have said if I started playing ’imagine the break up’ while you were still into your wives?” Or any number of his girlfriends, for that matter.
“I don’t know, but there’s a difference. I hadn’t already been left.”
“She didn’t leave…”
“Yes, she did. It doesn’t matter why for the purpose of this conversation because you didn’t know why then. You two were addicted to each other for 2 and a half years… and you fucking died when she left. You’ve been a goddamn zombie ever since. Now you’ve got her back. Then what?”
“I don’t know. I’d like to think that if we actually broke up I’d get over it. You know what it was like to not know what happened. You were right there with me.” He was just as scared as I was… He hadn’t seen the look on his face when he was bracing himself for the news.
“Fine? Didn’t you tell me that was a ‘woman’s word’?”
“Yep. It’s a load word… It never means the same thing twice. This time, ‘fine’ means that if y’all fuck things up, I’m giving you a year… And then I’m going to put you out of your misery.”
“That’s a little melodramatic, don’t you think?”
“Call it whatever the fuck you want. You know how fucking miserable you’ve been. Granted, not knowing sucked, but if y’all split, a normal break up… I’m not giving you but a year to get over it.”
“Or we could be alright.”
“Happily ever after sounds nice, but…”
Sookie and Belle came out of the bathroom smiling at each other and Sookie noticed the serious mood right away. “We’re all ready to go… Everything alright?”
Alcide snorted, “Fine.”