It Can’t Be
“I don’t want you to miss it. You should go.”
I shook my head as I loosened my tie. “I’m not going anywhere without you. If you aren’t in the mood to party, then I’m not either.”
“No. You should go. I’m just going to spend a little bit cleaning the apartment so that getting out of here is easier.”
She didn’t look back from scrubbing the tub. When we’d gotten back, she tossed her cap and gown into the trash can. I pulled them out and put them in the top of a box with mine. “You’ll only get to graduate once.”
“And you’re the one I want to celebrate with.”
She scoffed, “Eric…”
“I’m. Not. Going. You’re the only one I’d dance with. You’re the only one I’d talk to. There’s no point in going if you won’t be there.”
She stomped as she stood up angrily and pushed past me. “Fine. I’ll. Go.”
I had to catch her. “Sookie, that’s not what I meant. I wouldn’t be celebrating graduation anyway… I’d be celebrating what’s next. I don’t need a party to be excited about being with you.”
“I really can’t stand for you to be sweet right now, Eric.”
“Come on, Sookie. You should be happy. After all the stressing you did over your grades, you managed to graduate Magna Cum… You did it. You should be proud of yourself.”
“Thanks for telling me how I should feel. I’ll get right on that.”
I let go of her and started pacing. “Goddammit Sookie… If you won’t tell me what’s wrong, it’s not fair for you to take it out on me.”
“It’s not something I… I can’t explain it… I’m sorry.”
“Why can’t you explain it? Do you think I won’t at least try to understand or is it that you can’t describe what’s going on?”
She heaved out a heavy breath. “Even if I could bring myself to describe it, I’m pretty sure you couldn’t understand.” The non-committal answers and ambiguity were wearing me thin. I had no idea of what to do. It was like she wanted to wallow in whatever she was going through.
“Do you think you might be able to tell me eventually, or is this what it looks like when you push someone away?”
“I’m not trying to push you away.”
“That was a half answer.”
“I don’t know. I don’t know if I’ll even need to explain… I just…” She threw herself onto our mattress that was going to be put on the curb on our way out of town in the morning and covered her face in with one of the pillows I’d bought her for Christmas to go with the sheets she’d asked for. She said something into it, but it was too muffled for me to understand even if it was meant for my ears.
I laid down behind her and pulled her to me. “Sookie, if you want to stay in school…”
“That’s not it. I’m glad it’s over.”
“Can you tell me what you want then?”
She started to tremble… more crying and it took her a while before she could calm herself down enough to say anything. I’d learned by then to just wait. Asking what nerve I’d touched, any kind of push or encouragement only made it worse. “I want to move to Shreveport with you. I want to start our new jobs on June 1st. I want to rock my career like I rocked college. I want to marry you. I want to have… I want to have babies with you… I want to get old with you and do things that embarrass our grandkids with you.”
“That sounds like a perfect plan. Count me in.”
“Things don’t always go as planned, Eric.”
“Then we’ll adjust. Everything will work out.”
“No it won’t.”
“We’ll figure things out as they come to us. That’s all anybody can do. No one’s life is smooth sailing start to finish.”
“We’ve already had a lot of rough water though.”
“But we haven’t drowned yet. We can take more.”
“I don’t know if I can.”
“You’ve got me to help. You’ve always got me, Sookie.”
“You know… no matter what… I’ll always love you. Everything but that will change.”
She was starting to scare me again. All I could do was pull her closer and tell her that I loved her too. Even that was a problem. Every time I’d said it for weeks caused tears. As little as ‘watery eyes’ up to sobbing and everything in between. That time would be considered ‘sobbing’ but at a new level I hadn’t seen yet. Her whole body convulsed against mine. Choking and hyperventilating… until the pillowcase and my arm were soaked and stained from the mascara that washed away from her lashes.
That’s how she fell to sleep. She trembled in her sleep even after I pulled the covers over us and drifted to sleep myself…
And then I woke up alone.
My sleeve was still wet and smeared.
I changed my clothes took one box and our mesh hamper down to the truck and waited to grab the garbage because I was sure, positive, 100% certain that Sookie would be back with McMuffins, maybe a can of cashews and some Big Red for road snacks…
I couldn’t have been more wrong.
I was standing at the sink, washing away Bob’s funky odor in an oddly familiar kitchen when everything thing hit me all at once.
Sickened and energized… and all because of a set of headlights.
I wanted to kill her for cheating me out of my son’s life… I wanted to hate her for what she’d done and how much she made me worry… but the worst and most undeniable urge I had was to touch her… to make sure she was real. She’d lived in my imagination for so long that I needed to be sure that I hadn’t finally snapped and created a fantasy while my actual body was strapped to a bed in a padded cell somewhere.
I watched… hands still under the running water and it didn’t occur to me that I was just as visible as she was until she looked up from her purse.
Her expression was confused when she laid eyes on my car then spotted me when she looked in my direction. She seemed to shrug off the surprise quickly enough to give me a little wave and a smile on her way to the trunk of her BMW… over the hundred or so feet between us and glare from the glass, she’d mistaken me for our son as much as Jason had on the phone. It was the first time I’d seen her smile in so long… she’d been so peculiar before she left that she took that with her too… And the pictures she’d left, albums full of smiles and hugs, needed to be boxed up about 10 years ago. I couldn’t pass our albums without picking them up. They caused more than one skin-of-my-teeth deadline.
She’d filled out. Every bit of her little pink sundress fit perfectly to her slightly fuller figure. Maybe 10 pounds difference, but she’d always been self conscious about being too thin. Having a baby, or maybe just eating something other than Ramen and peanut butter, had agreed with her. Her hair was much longer… It was pulled up in a clip, but it was still hanging between her shoulder blades… it wasn’t the same blonde I remembered; less golden, more ash.
When I realized that I’d been wasting water, I turned away in search of a towel to dry my hands.
On the sideboard…
Separating the kitchen from the dining area…
I hadn’t even realized it was missing, that she’d taken it until that very second…
She’d taken the model to her house… our house… the honeysuckle and glass house. The house our son walked through and knew right away that it was honeysuckle instead of wisteria… the house that he’d been pacing through earlier while I spoke to Jason… She’d kept the house I planned to live in with her.
I was still staring at it with my back to the door when she came in. “Hey sweetie, why are you home? I thought you were having fun with Jason and Crystal.”
“I missed you.” I couldn’t help it. My feet were frozen in place. I wasn’t pretending to be Eric… I really had missed her.
She giggled and I heard the refrigerator open. “That’s sweet… And don’t worry, I won’t tell any of your friends that you said that.”
“Promise me something.” While she moved around behind me to put groceries away, I couldn’t take my eyes off of the model. The lanai’s fireplace was different… I’d remembered it wrong.
“That depends. If you came home so that you could go to that concert, you’re barking up the wrong tree. I don’t think you’re old enough to go alone and you don’t want me to go with you.” I’d reduced the size of the balcony on the master for structural reasons.
“Promise me that you won’t run away and lock yourself in the bathroom.” The model had a garage that I’d joked would hold her mom-mobile and my sports car… but I’d modified the plans to make it my home office. It had been 5 years ago. I was losing hope.
“What? Eric, you’re acting funny. What’s going on?” I could feel her eyes on me heavier than my clothes.
She deepened her voice and grumbled, “Eric…” She’d done it… it sounded as automatic as if she’d been teasing me about being too serious all along… Then there was a loud slap.
I’d thought that she might have dropped something, but when I turned around her hands were over her mouth and she’d started crying so violently that she looked like she’d been at it for hours. She was still beautiful. I took a step towards her, but she stepped back and hit her hip on the edge of the counter. I had to force my hands open so that I could hide them in my pockets. I’d never given her a reason to be afraid of me… EVER. “How’ve you been?”
Her sobbing seemed to morph into maniacal laughter for only a moment before she started hyperventilating.
When I took another step she bolted for her purse and fumbled for her cell phone. “Sookie, I’m not going to hurt you…”
She squeezed her eyes shut, shaking her head. “Stop it. Stop. I thought this was over… It’s been so long.”
“He found me, Sookie. I wasn’t going to ignore him. You had to know I wouldn’t turn him away.”
She dropped her cell and buried her face in her hands. “Stop. Stop it. This isn’t fair.”
“You really don’t want to mention fairness to me, Sookie.”
She sunk onto the floor and mumbled into her hands, “I knew it. I knew better. I knew better…”
“What the hell are you talking about?”
“You know what I’m talking about. Why won’t you just leave me alone?”
When Eric came downstairs, barefoot and holding his T-shirt, I nodded in Sookie’s direction. Approaching her wasn’t an option for me and the longer she acted like I was to blame for anything, the closer she got to being right about being scared of me.
She wailed at him, “Not you too!”
“Mom… What’s wrong? Something come back and bite you in the ass?” He looked like he wanted to kick her while she was down.
I gave him a dirty look. “It’s nice to see that you’re not being malicious and cruel.”
He snorted. “Yeah, well, you’re the one that wants answers. I want to get the hell away from her before she has the chance to lie about anything else.”
I shook my head at him. He was right. I did want answers, especially since Sookie was flipping out as though we were to blame. And he was just as right to want to leave. I squatted down in front of her, honestly hoping that if anything, she’d stab me to death and put me out of my misery. I put my hand over hers and she twitched, but this time, she looked at me. “Sookie, we deserve an explanation…”
Eric added, “And a time machine. Don’t forget the damn time machine so that we can make up for what you did.”
We both asked ‘what?’ and she didn’t seem to realize that Eric was in the room anymore, let alone that he snapped his reply.
She moved her hand to grab mine. “Eric?” She said it like it was the first time she’d ever said the word.
“You… You’re… You’re real?”
“As opposed to what?”
She dropped my hand and scrambled to her feet to push herself back against the fridge and stared back and forth between Eric and me before clapping her hands over her mouth again to wail, “How?”
Eric looked at me and rolled his eyes before he stormed back upstairs. “How what? How did he find me?”
She nodded, still hiding behind her tiny hands.
“Architectural Digest… Is it my turn to ask questions?”
She nodded again.
“Why everything Sookie. Why did you leave? Why did you keep him from me? Why stay hidden? Why?”
She shook her head.
“You’re not going to answer me? After all this time?”
“I can’t it… I… It’s too…” Fuck it. I’d been replaying everything about her in my head for so long that ‘I don’t know’ and ‘I can’t’ were engraved in my eyelids. I didn’t need or want more of them.
“He’s furious with you.”
“And you hate me too! I told you that everything was ruined!”
“It would have been fine. Eric wants to go back to Shreveport.”
“I’m sure he does.” Her breathing sounded calmer, but not much.
“Are you going to let me take him?”
She bolted past me and barely made it around the counter in time to throw up in the sink. Choking and sobbing. A small part of me wanted to hold her hair back. I settled for handing her the towel I used to dry my hands when she was done. “To Jason’s or with you?”
“I’m not sure what he wants. I know I’d like to get to know my son and I know he needs some time to calm down now that he knows that I didn’t know anything about him.”
Her chin quivered as the water works started again. “I’m sorry.” She calmed herself even more.
I rolled my eyes. “Don’t do that. Don’t stand there and tell me you’re sorry. ‘Sorry’ doesn’t cut it when you took off and never looked back. Put it in writing that I have your permission to take MY son back to Shreveport.” I could live without headlines like: Prominent Local Architect Booked On Kidnapping Charge.
She nodded and went to a drawer to pull out a steno pad. Without another word, she began scribbling.
She walked over and held the paper out to me. “That’s it? You have no problem giving him to me… Answers would kill you?”
She took a deep breath. “It doesn’t matter does it? You both hate me.”
More tears, but she tried to fight them. “I didn’t think he was yours.”
My jaw seized. Clamped down and if I’d let myself move it all, she might have ended up thrown through the front window. “I looked for you. I wore out my welcome at every police station between Pennsylvania and Louisiana all this time for someone who left because she didn’t have the grace to tell me she cheated?” I was lucky to have gotten that much out. I was tasting blood.
I watched her throat clench and imagined my hands around it. “I had… I was going to get an abortion. I was going to try to pretend it didn’t happen, but I couldn’t stand the idea of killing our baby… if he was yours.”
“But you’d kill your other boyfriend’s baby. I should feel honored.”
I’d been too centered on her to realize Eric had come back. He’d been listening. “So… the other guy… he was the donor of the day, huh? Did we live in his double wide for a while before things ‘didn’t work out’ with him either.”
She looked down at her hands. “I deserve that.”
He took a furious step towards her. “You’re goddamn right you deserve that! You actually made me feel guilty for wondering about him and all this was because you were a ho!”
She shook her head. “I didn’t mean for it to be like this. I didn’t mean to hurt y’all… it snowballed.”
“It was that Niall guy, wasn’t it!”
She shook her head again but didn’t answer him.
“So that’s it? All you’ve got is that you wanted an abortion and you didn’t mean to hurt anyone? That’s. Just. Fan. Freakin. Tastic. You made me give a longer explanation for breaking curfew and… You know what? This is BS…” He turned to storm out.
“If you just calm down…”
“I don’t have to calm down! You’ve been lying by omission since I was born! I’m allowed to be pissed! So is he!”
“THEN WHY THE HELL DIDN’T I MEET MY FATHER UNTIL I WAS OLD ENOUGH TO HAIL A CAB!?”
“Because you stopped asking… It took me a long time to pull myself together and by the time I did, you’d stopped asking. Eric didn’t know and I thought you stopped thinking about it. I’m sorry.”
“Pull yourself back together from what? Taking off in the first place?”
“Among other things.”
“Among other things… Among other things! Seriously? Once I started putting stuff together, I thought that he took off because of me!”
“He wouldn’t have…”
“THANKS FOR TELLING ME NOW!”
“Do you want me to explain or…”
He shook his head. “No. You can go fuck yourself.”
“DON’T EVEN! If he doesn’t want me then I’ll guilt Uncle Jason into letting me stay with him. I’ll be back to get my school records and the rest of my stuff before school starts. I’m done with you.”
He snatched a backpack from the stairs and when he left, he slammed the door so hard the window next to it shattered.
I couldn’t fault him. He’d blown up on her like I would’ve if I didn’t have more experience controlling my temper. I hated that they were hurting, both of them. Even though I wanted to hate her for leaving like she did, taking Eric and never telling me that I was a father, never telling him that he had a father…
I knew that I hadn’t gotten the whole story yet.
Not that hearing the whole story would erase what she’d done… but… I really did need to hear it.
Something had gone very wrong and I’d been oblivious.
I wondered if I had been the only one of us that was in love. If I was smothering her… if she tried to just break up with me, then I would’ve stalked her. After all, that’s what I’d been doing anyway. Ever since she left, I’d looked for her. Google laughed at me every time I entered an S into the search field. I’d typed her name so many times that it automatically suggested that I search for Sookie, Sookie Stackhouse, Stackhouse… Every time I traveled for work, the first thing I did in my hotel room was look for her in the phone book. I’d emailed the detective looking for her so many times that I’d accidentally gotten an eVite to his daughter’s wedding. I hadn’t just refused to give up on her, I’d been obsessed.
Looking at her made me feel sick, but I still couldn’t take my eyes off of her. I’d loved her for 18 years. That wasn’t going to change in just a few hours. If I wanted to kid myself, I could hope that I could get over her before I died.
She stared at me like the magic spell to unfuck our suddenly complicated lives was written on my forehead. She used to sit as far from the TVs in the student union as possible because they were constantly playing Springer and Maury… She hated those shows and what the people on them did to each other. They reminded her of the battlegrounds she grew up on and gave her a reason to want to leave the tiny town she hailed from so that she could be ‘better than that’ since all she learned from it was struggle and pain. As it turned out, she hadn’t left it all there.
“Jason mentioned adoption.”
“You talked to him?” I didn’t owe her any clarification.
“He said that you told him that you were planning on putting Eric up for adoption.”
She nodded at the floor.
“What then? You knew when you saw him that he was ‘worth keeping’ more than the other guy’s baby… What would you have done if it was his? Adopt him out and wait a couple of months to heal, then find me to pick up where you left off?”
“I don’t know… maybe. After 7 months you might’ve forgiven me for keeping secrets… I…”
“Sookie, until this morning, I’d have forgiven you. The way you were acting before you disappeared, I thought you’d left to throw yourself off a bridge. I’ve been afraid to answer my phone since you vanished.”
“I’m sorry.” Another answer free apology. That was the last one I was going to take.
“Food, skin allergies? Insurance card until I can add him to my policy. I want his birth certificate and social security card so that I can take him to get a learner’s permit. Since I didn’t get to help him learn to walk, I’ll be teaching him to drive… And if he wants, we’ll change his name BECAUSE HE’S A NORTHMAN!”
She nodded. It was the first time I’d ever yelled at her, but I finally had a really good fucking reason. “They wouldn’t let me… I wanted to…” And if she’d just called the baby’s father, he could’ve signed the birth certificate.
“Sookie, if you hadn’t gotten pregnant, would you have ever told me?”
She shook her head. “No… I never would’ve left.” She’d have cheated on me and never admitted it. She’d have kept it a secret until she found a way to justify the next time and the next and the next…
My arm bumped her shoulder when I stormed by her. I couldn’t take any more answers. The more she gave me the more I felt like the fool for looking for her, let alone loving her. “I’ll be waiting in the car with my stranger.”