My heart hurt watching Eric standing there staring down at the book he’d placed on the table.
From the looks of it I could tell it wasn’t a new copy. I’d searched high and low for one on the internet and came up empty handed, but seeing its tattered edges, I knew it was the very same book Eric had held onto as a child, wishing for his mother’s return, and the thought of him like that made me want to cry. I wondered if the two coins stacked on top of it symbolized his father’s two cents on the matter, but I was too afraid to ask.
Gran and Jason had clued into the fact that everything wasn’t kosher between Eric and his father, so thankfully no one questioned me when I trailed after them a minute later with me channeling my inner Maxine Fortenberry where I watched them through the window while they’d been talking outside. Even more surprising than our unexpected visitor was the fact that that’s all they’d been doing.
I’d only ever seen them together three other times and even though there hadn’t been raised voices between them then either, the anger between them had always been like a living breathing entity, as if it was a constant third companion to their meetings. I’d felt it emerge from Eric once we saw who was sitting at the table with Gran, only to disappear as soon as they stepped outside and while Eric’s expression now didn’t look as though his puppy had died it certainly seemed, at the very least, lost.
Shit! The puppy!
While Eric and Jason had been out that morning, I’d taken off and gone to Sam and Terry’s house to pick up his present. I would have no choice but to give it to him early, but now I had to hope he wasn’t chewing up my car’s interior since that’s where I’d left him when I ended up unexpectedly following Eric into the house. I was sure Eric wouldn’t be upset by that because it would give him a reason to try and replace The Black Pearl, but I quashed the urge to run back outside and hugged him instead, asking, “Are you sure you’re okay? Do you want to talk about it?”
He didn’t answer me at first and just hugged me back for a while before he finally answered, “Yeah, I’m alright.” He took a deep breath and added, “We can talk about it later after Gran and Jason go to bed.”
I wanted to force the issue because I wasn’t so sure I believed him. He was always out of sorts after seeing his father and I wanted him to be able to vent whatever it was he was thinking, but I really had no choice at the moment. Even if Gran and Jason hadn’t been there, I still needed to get the puppy out of the car, so I smiled brightly at him, asking, “Well, do you want one of your Christmas presents a day early?”
“No,” he finally smiled down at me. “I can wait until tomorrow morning.”
“Uh…well maybe you can, but the present can’t,” I replied and grabbed onto his hand, leading him back outside.
As soon as I opened the door to my car, the puppy jumped out and raced circles around our feet before coming to sit just in front of where Eric stood with his tail wagging excitedly. Terry had adopted a pregnant dog from an animal rescue, so he wasn’t quite sure what the puppy’s exact breed was. He was a mixed breed of a Labrador retriever and something else, with a mostly black coat and spots of white on his chest and paws, but I hoped he wouldn’t get too big and because I knew Terry had done some training with him, a part of me worried that the puppy came to sit in front of Eric. Terry’s dogs were trained to ultimately become service dogs for people suffering from post-traumatic stress and the fact that he chose to sit next to Eric made me wonder if he was feeling more bothered by his father’s visit than he’d let on.
Eric automatically squatted down next to him and began scratching him behind his ears with both of his hands, asking, “You got me a puppy?”
I couldn’t tell by his tone whether or not he liked his present and even though Terry told me I could bring him back if it didn’t work out, I was already fond of the little guy and took the chicken shit way out, answering, “No…the Bean got you a puppy.”
He wouldn’t turn down a gift from his own kid, would he? Because I was pretty sure there was a whole shitload of gifts made from macaroni noodles in his future.
Eric gave the puppy another pat on his head before pulling me closer and since he was already down there, he lifted my shirt and kissed my belly, saying, “Thank you Bean.”
The puppy yipped at Eric’s feet, drawing his attention back to him, and I wasn’t sure if it was my maternal hormones or my love of animals, but I really wanted to smoosh kisses all over his face however that thought was waylaid by Eric kissing me instead. I could feel the love and tenderness he felt for me and, like a sap, tears automatically sprung to my eyes and when he finally pulled away, he simply said, “Thank you.”
I had a feeling his thanks were for more than just the puppy.
We eventually went back into the house, with the puppy trailing along behind us, and he turned out to be a good distraction from our unexpected visit from Eric’s dad. All Jason wanted to do was play with him and got him all riled up with one of his toys and while I knew Gran was curious about Eric’s dad, all it took was him saying he would be back for dinner the following day for Gran to leave the subject alone. Instead she busied herself with chastising Jason for getting the puppy so excited while we all tried to come up with a name for him. Eric didn’t appreciate my suggestion of naming him Jack; even after I pointed out we couldn’t name the baby that if the dog had taken the name, so we all spent the majority of the rest of the day offering suggestions. It wasn’t until we were getting ready for bed when out of the blue, Eric said, “Bubba.”
“What?” I asked with my toothbrush hovering in front of my mouth.
“The puppy,” he replied. “We can call him Bubba.”
I felt my eyes narrow at him and said worriedly, “I think you’ve been spending too much time with Jason. Sweetie, you’re too pretty to be that redneck.”
His mood throughout the day wasn’t bad, but definitely somber, so I was happy to hear him laugh again as he explained, “Not like a redneck Bubba; Vegas Bubba, after the guy that married us.”
How could I have forgotten Bubba?
I hadn’t given much thought to our wedding at all over the past few months, given everything else that had been going on the meantime, and asked, “What made you think about that?”
As soon as I climbed into bed beside Eric, he wrapped his arms around me, and once the puppy settled on the bed at our feet, he admitted, “My dad.” I’d been wondering all day long what had happened between them and stayed silent, just burrowing my body up against him perfectly content to let him tell me in his own time, which he eventually did and when he was done, I didn’t know what to feel. I was elated for him knowing how much he’d wanted a normal family, but leery at the same time over his dad’s possible motives. I certainly didn’t trust him at all and was worried about Eric getting hurt by him at some point in the future, but I knew all I could do was be there for him no matter what. Even Eric admitted he didn’t know what to feel about it all, but I understood his need to at least give his father another chance. My parents had been the exact opposite of his, but I had no doubt I would’ve wanted the same thing had I been in his shoes and couldn’t fault him for it.
I just hoped it didn’t turn around and bite us in the ass later on.
Eric seemed emotionally drained, so I didn’t even try to distract him with sex, instead just holding him close while telling him I loved him, until we both eventually fell asleep, but when I woke up the next morning to the Captain’s salute against my butt, it took all of my willpower to not do my patriotic duty. I wasn’t sure what sort of mood Eric would be in after the events of the day before and while I’d woken him up with sex in the past, now it just felt wrong; like I’d be taking advantage of him or something, but it turned out I didn’t have to worry about it because as soon as I shifted on the mattress, Bubba pounced on me. I still wasn’t sold on his name, but since he was Eric’s dog I figured he should have the final say about it and his excited circling on top of the bed made me remember that it had been a while since he’d been outside. The fact that Eric slept through it all didn’t give me high hopes for help with future midnight feedings, so I pulled my robe on and picked him up so I could carry him downstairs. After I got a pot of coffee going I went to stand at the backdoor watching him seemingly catalog every blade of grass in the backyard when I felt Eric’s arms slip around my waist. He nuzzled my neck with his whiskered chin, murmuring in a sleepy voice, “Merry Christmas.”
His hands automatically caressed my rapidly growing midsection which was the norm anymore, either out of habit or because the Bean was hell bent on making itself known, but I didn’t mind and turned around in his arms, teasing, “Are you saying that to me or your little bun in my oven?”
“Both,” he smiled, seconds before his lips were on mine. I couldn’t remember ever being happier than I was right then, standing there kissing my husband on our very first Christmas together and tried to imagine how different it would be the following year or the year after that. We hadn’t talked about having more kids because finding out we were having one had been enough of a shock, but images of squealing blond heads running around through a whirlwind of flying gift wrap was enough to make me smile.
As our kiss wore on I could feel the effect it was having on Eric and I was contemplating on dragging him back upstairs for a little Christmas morning cheer when Jason bellowed, “Merry Christmas!” from the doorway.
The look on Eric’s face when he pulled away told me he’d had the same idea and he turned us around so I could hide the physical evidence of those thoughts as he said back to him, “Merry Christmas Jase,” but before anyone could say anything more, Jason was diving for the tree saying, “Present time!”
Jason’s was not the blond head I’d pictured amid the flying gift wrap.
“Jason Stackhouse!” I said raising my voice, but not quite yelling. “You drop those presents right now! You’re not opening anything until Gran comes down!”
Eric must have let Bubba inside in the meanwhile because he was suddenly jumping all over his new favorite uncle and Gran walked in seconds later which, in Jason’s mind, gave him the green light to start opening gifts. Gran fussed that we’d gotten her anything at all saying everything we’d done for her house was more than enough for the rest of her Christmases and birthdays combined, but all it took was the combination of Eric and Bubba giving her the puppy dog eyes and she quickly got over it.
Hopefully I’d get the Bean on my side early on because three against one were unfair odds and I’d be doomed.
Eric was hard to buy for considering the man could pretty much go out and get whatever he wanted, so the only other thing I could think to get him was an iPad since he miraculously didn’t have one and seemed to like gadgets so much. I even downloaded and English to Swahili translation app as a joke and while we both wanted his memories to return, I no longer felt like the world was going to end if they didn’t, but it certainly seemed to stand still when he gave me my gift from him.
All I could think about was everything he’d already done for me; he’d gotten me a car; he’d restored my childhood home for my Gran; he’d flown my family out for the holiday in a private jet; he’d even taken to genuinely liking my shit for brains brother.
What more could a girl ask for?
Eric’s obvious nervousness only compounded my own and seeing I now had the full attention of Gran and Jason as well only added to it, so I swallowed every ‘you shouldn’t have’ that threatened to leave my lips and slowly peeled the paper from the box. Opening it, I wasn’t quite sure what it was I was looking at, but seeing the word ‘Deed’ at the top of the paper gave me my first clue. I already knew Eric had added my name to the deed on our house which admittedly ruffled my feathers at the time, but I couldn’t fault his logic about wanting to make sure the baby and I were taken care of if, God forbid, something happened to him. No one ever wants to believe tragedy could strike them, but we’d already each had our own close calls recently, so I didn’t fight him on it.
Looking more closely at the page in front of me, my eyes skimmed down the paper and when I saw the address was 202 Hummingbird Lane, Bon Temps, LA I felt them go wide and looked over at Eric asking, “You bought the house next door to Gran’s?”
Eric swallowed hard and looked a little scared, answering, “Yes,” but it sounded more like a question.
“Why?” I asked. Jason had joked over Thanksgiving that we should move back, but Eric’s job on the sitcom meant we would have to live in L.A.
He looked really nervous now as he replied, “Well, it was the only thing I could remember you ever saying you liked.”
I’d told him a thousand times how much I liked his ass and it was mine. That was more than enough.
The house would’ve been beautiful in its heyday, but now it was a shithole. I’d be afraid the floor would give out just going up onto the front porch and knew it would probably have to be knocked down to its foundation and be rebuilt again from the ground up, but it would be next door to Gran’s. We could stay there over the summers if Eric wasn’t busy filming something and I felt tears well in my eyes already picturing a tiny mop of blond curls giggling as they bounced across the field towards her house with Bubba in tow and Eric happily pretending to chase them down while I watched.
Eric misread my tears and put his arm around me explaining, “I know it’s not much to look at now, but I already had Calvin Norris go through and inspect it and he recommended just leveling it and starting over. They’re going to start working on it after the holidays and then build whatever kind of house you want. See?”
He took the deed out of the box to show me a book full of southern style homes underneath, but I couldn’t see it through the tears now falling from my eyes and I threw myself at him, sobbing, “I love it.”
I felt the tension in his body go away as he relaxed in my arms muttering, “Thank God,” into my hair and he hugged me back while Gran chimed in saying, “You don’t know how happy you’ve made a lot of the families in the area. There’s not a lot of work to be found around there, but now they’ll be able to put food on their tables thanks to you.”
Knowing just how true that statement was pushed away every worry that had started to creep in over just how much this would end up costing in the end and I just let myself be happy about it instead. After the gift wrap mess was cleaned up we sat around looking through the different house designs we could choose from when Eric’s cell phone rang. Since I was closest to it, I grabbed it and when I saw Pam’s name flash on the caller ID, I answered it with, “Merry Christmas Pammy!”
We’d already exchange gifts a few days earlier because Pam was flying to Minnesota to see her family for the holidays, which she wasn’t looking forward to, so I wasn’t surprised by her less than festive reply and asked, “Shouldn’t you be busy terrorizing your nieces and nephews? You know, scarring them for life by telling them Santa Claus is really Freddy Krueger in disguise and he needs their young pliable skin to make ribbons for the evil Chucky dolls he’s leaving under the trees of the bad boys and girls?”
It was the exact phrase she’d used when she’d told me she was going home for the holidays and served as a reminder why she’d never be allowed to tell the Bean any bedtime stories.
“Oh please Sookie, I took care of that last night and, honestly, you’d think I’d get a thank you out of their parents for getting them to stay in their rooms for the rest of the night. Ungrateful fuckers. I’m already at the airport waiting for my flight to return to L.A.”
I looked at the clock and saw it was just after eight in the morning our time and knowing she was only a couple of hours ahead of us, I asked, “Why are you flying back already? Weren’t you staying for Christmas?” I wondered if she really had told the kids that horrible story and had to get out of Dodge.
“I was there when the clock struck midnight, so technically I was there for Christmas. If my family wanted me to stay longer then they should’ve been more specific during our negotiations.”
I wondered what Pam’s parents were like and pictured a cross between Ken and Barbie and Lucius and Narcissa Malfoy, but I quickly refocused and asked, “So when will you be landing?” I didn’t want her to spend the whole day by herself, even if she didn’t seem too bothered by the idea, and added, “Come here when you get in and you can stay for dinner.”
My conversation seemed to have caught Jason’s interest because I watched him lean over towards Eric and ask with a grin, “Is she a looker?”
The thought of Jason trying to put the moves on Pam made my eyes roll all by themselves, but it seemed to amuse Eric to no end because he laughed and vaguely answered, “I’ve heard many people call her ‘striking’.”
Pam was drop dead gorgeous; there was no doubt about it, but I had a feeling whoever had called her ‘striking’ were likely referring to her swinging hands and oversized purse in the form of a temporary restraining order. Meanwhile, Jason waggled his eyebrows in response, as Pam broke in, saying, “I suppose I could stop by. I wanted to give you an update on what Reuben found out about Debbie Pelt anyway, which isn’t much, but he’s still working on a few leads along with something else.”
“Okay,” I practically whispered. Gran didn’t know anything about the potentially crazy stalker, so I didn’t want to grill Pam over the phone about her now and get Gran worried, so once we hung up I told everyone we’d be having another guest for dinner, which reminded me Eric’s dad would be there too. It took a while before I had the chance to speak to Eric alone, but when I finally did, I said, “I know your dad and Pam don’t get along, so we’ll have to corner her when she gets her and tell her to behave.”
Their newfound relationship was already starting out on shaky ground and I didn’t want Pam to rock the boat too much, but Eric didn’t seem worried and just chuckled as he shrugged, saying, “Sit her next to Jason and we won’t have to worry about it.”
The man knew what he was talking about.
Pam arrived later on that afternoon and I thought we’d need to beat Jason off with a rolled up newspaper just so we could have a few minutes alone in Eric’s office. I’d tried not to think too much about the crazy stalker, but hearing Pam bring her back up earlier that morning had been needling away at me all day long, so as soon as the door was shut, I said, “What did he find out?”
She gracefully flopped down into one of the chairs, answering, “I told you this morning; not much. He couldn’t find anyone by that name in the state of California, but he branched out and found a Pelt family in Mississippi who have an adopted daughter by the name of Debra and another biological daughter named Sandra. Debra had a history of mental illness and finally ran away several years ago and, coincidentally, Sandra was reported missing last month. He’s working on trying to get a copy of Debra’s photo, but it’s likely to be at least ten years old.”
Eric and I stood there with neither one of us saying anything and I wondered just how mentally ill she was in case they were one and the same, but Pam plowed ahead and blindsided us with her next words.
“And after you told me what an oaf your private investigator was, I also had Reuben look into your meeting in Vegas and he found something.” Her eyes looked to me as she asked, “Do you recall meeting Bill Compton that night?”
“What?” I asked dumbfounded. “No! I never even knew who he was until he came here for Eric’s poker night.”
“Why? What does he have to do with anything?” Eric growled.
Yeah, he couldn’t remember it at all, but it still pissed him off.
Pam could earn her own Emmy for all of the dramatic flair she put into her next words, saying, “Well, I could tell you, but why bother when I have the video of it right here?” We watched her reach into her bag with her pulling out a DVD a second later and innocently held it up in between her perfectly manicured nails. It looked completely harmless.
So why did I feel like it should’ve come with a bow made from fileted children?