I don’t know how long I stayed awake watching Eric sleep, but even though he’d exhausted my body, my mind wouldn’t shut down and instead of replaying the matches of our sex Olympics I kept coming back to what he’d said earlier that morning before the elevator doors closed. It had been a while since he’d brought up his amnesia, but then we’d had a lot going on in the last few weeks and while I knew it still bothered him on some level I hadn’t realized just how much until he’d spat out those words. It would be easy to blame his anger on his mother’s sudden arrival and on some level I knew she had a lot to do with it, but even more than the hurt I felt over his nasty tone, I was worried about what he might do if she screwed him over again. Our lives had changed so much since we first woke up in that Vegas hotel room, but in the grand scheme of things what was seven months of our marriage compared to a lifetime of the hurt she’d caused him?
Would Lilly and I be enough to keep him from going over the edge a second time?
If he hadn’t come right back to try and make things right – if Pam hadn’t shown up and given us a reason to not focus on the metaphorical ticking time bomb his mother represented – I don’t know if I would’ve been able to calm down enough to see it wasn’t really me he’d been angry with. What I didn’t know was if it was his mother or himself he was angrier with and seeing how easily she could draw him back in, I was afraid if I pushed him too hard by stubbornly refusing her presence in our lives he would break and I loved him too much to be the one to do that to him.
I just hoped I would be enough to fix him if she broke him again.
What I really hoped was that she would just disappear again so we wouldn’t have to worry about her at all. If only I could summon that elusive Vegas odds man to see what the numbers looked like I might be able to get some sleep, but since he didn’t happen to be in our San Diego hotel room I was shit out of luck and out of time to get any sleep anyway. Eric didn’t stir at all when I got out of bed and he was still down for the count when I emerged from the bathroom after my shower, but I let him sleep in knowing he needed the rest.
And a small part of me hoped if we just happened to arrive at the hospital at the same time Dad did, then maybe we could put off Crystal for one more day.
I grabbed a cup of coffee and sat down next to the window staring out at the park across the street from our hotel room tormenting myself with the ‘what ifs’ his mother’s return would cause. Not the fairytale kind where everyone suddenly held hands and sang ‘All You Need Is Love’ while we swayed inside of rainbows we’d farted from our asses, but the kind where Eric’s dad would be left lying passed out in a gutter in front of a bar because I would be too busy using Lilly’s baby aspirator trying to suck out the cocaine from Eric’s nostrils before dragging him off to rehab.
After all, she’d been the cause for both of those things to happen in the past, but not once had I been told she’d caused rainbow farts.
Eric’s drug addiction was something he’d conquered before we’d ever met, so I’d never had to deal with it or the repercussions. Other than our wedding night and the one time at Gran’s, when he and Jason bonded over beer cans and shitty movie screenplays, Eric didn’t even drink much alcohol. He had the occasional beer, but that was it and the thought of him turning to drugs again if his mother fucked him over scared me. However as much as the thought scared me, I loved him and would feel compelled to follow him to the ends of the earth to bring him back, but it wasn’t just us now – we had Lilly too. How could I leave her so I could go chasing him and his demons?
But how could I not try and bring her father back to her?
Talk about torn in two.
Ever since Lilly’s birth Eric had been the strong one in our relationship. Sure, he was scared for Lilly’s wellbeing, but he somehow managed to stand tall – be the brick wall separating us from anything that could potentially do us harm and I felt like now it was my turn to do that for him. I couldn’t explain why, but I knew Crystal’s reappearance in our lives wasn’t a good thing and it wasn’t because of the way she’d hurt Eric the last time she’d shown up out of the blue. As soon as I realized who she was I got that same chill down my spine I’d had when I’d first laid eyes on Bill Compton walking into our kitchen and I knew better than to dismiss it as nothing. I didn’t think she’d be kidnapping either one of us, but whatever her endgame was wasn’t in our best interests. I just didn’t know how to make Eric see that too.
From the way he’d hugged her goodbye, I could’ve missed the rainbow shooting from his ass since all I could see was red.
Gran’s words of wisdom came back to me in that moment – ‘God didn’t promise days without pain, laughter without sorrow, sun without rain, but He did promise strength for the day, comfort for the tears, and light for the way’ – and she’d been right. Eric had done and been all of those things for me over the last six weeks, so now it was my turn.
I would be strong for him and hold him up if he felt too weak to stand on his own.
I would kiss away his tears when they inevitably came until he saw how worthy he was in my eyes.
And I would set that bitch on fire for hurting him again.
Maybe not what God had intended, but I couldn’t turn her into a pillar of salt and I could always pick up some gasoline and a book of matches.
“What are you thinking?”
I startled in my seat hearing Eric’s voice and turned to see him standing in the doorway looking back at me. He wore his freshly fucked look well and seeing his small smile, I didn’t want to be the one to take that away by admitting my murderous barbeque fantasies, so I tried to look innocent as I shrugged, “Nothing really.”
Eric hadn’t yet realized shrugs danced along the fine line between lies and truth and I wasn’t about to give away my only advantage now.
As much as I wanted to see Lilly, I really didn’t want to run into his mother again figuring if she showed up at all, it would be in the morning now that she knew Dad wouldn’t be there until the afternoons, and since it was still early enough that he wouldn’t be there just yet, I asked, “Do you want to take a ride out to Miramar this morning?”
I hadn’t forgotten about his snappy remark over not remembering our first three weeks together and knew it still bothered him. It had been our plan to do that on the day our world went to shit thanks to our stalkers and since we were already in San Diego it wouldn’t take but a few minutes to get there.
“Now?” he asked confused.
He looked like he was going to argue about it, but I knew that would just morph into an argument over his mother – an argument I wasn’t prepared to have just yet, so I tried to smile and said, “Yeah, it’ll be fun. Maybe it’ll help jog your memories. We don’t have to stay long, but I think we should do it now since they said it won’t be long before we can finally hold Lilly, and you know once that happens, neither one of us will want to be away from her.”
It was a dirty tactic to use our daughter against him, but I was desperate and desperate times called for desperate measures.
If that didn’t work, I’d whip out the girls and offer to sweeten up his morning cup of coffee for him.
He looked torn. I should know because I was probably wearing the identical expression and the thought of possibly losing Eric thanks to his demon mother had Wicked and Immoral changing allegiances tout suite, with them now hovering over the top button of my blouse in case we needed to blind Eric with breast milk. I wasn’t sure how they’d rate as snipers, but hoped they could calculate the proper aim of what would equate to a Sookie Soaker.
Nerf had nothing on the Wonder Twins.
My mind’s eye conjured the old SNL skit that would leave Jason and me in tears with me glancing down at them hearing, “I am Hans.” “Und I am Franz.” “Und ve just vant to pump… (clap) …YOU UP!”
Maybe Eric’s mom wasn’t the only mother who needed help.
“I don’t think that’s a good idea,” Eric said and left me scrambling thinking maybe he’d heard them too, until he followed up with, “My mom will probably show up this morning.”
Ugh…was that HOPE in his eyes?
I didn’t have the heart to say any of the downright nasty things I was thinking about his mother and only replied, “Do you really think she will?” while sending up a silent prayer to God to strike her dead. Or at the very least, give her amnesia.
“She said she would,” he shrugged. “She only has a few days off from her job, so she’ll have to head back soon.”
Not soon enough.
With that he turned and walked back into the bedroom and I heard the shower go on a minute later, but I was frozen in the spot I sat on. After our heated exchange the day before, he had an idea of how I felt, but I’d never come out and told him I didn’t want her near Lilly. I’d been too busy accusing the one woman he’d been pining over for his entire life of being a gold digger and then blamed my memory challenged husband for somehow forgetting what she did to him the last time.
Silly me. I was the only one he’d forgotten.
Now that we were no longer in the heat of the moment it was easier for me to be a little more rational. It was Eric’s heart that would be broken if she fucked him over again, not Lilly’s, and while I would never agree to give her unrestricted access to see Lilly like Eric’s dad had, I didn’t want to alienate Eric by refusing altogether. Lilly was his daughter too and if his mother decided to leave because I wouldn’t let her see her granddaughter, then I knew Eric would blame me. And given the power she seemed to still have over him I wasn’t so sure he would pick me over her if he was forced to choose.
Our seven months together was a pittance compared to how long he’d wanted her back.
I didn’t say anything more and resigned myself to let the chips fall where they may and as soon as Eric was ready we all headed to the car. While I thought Eric’s memory loss seemed almost inconsequential anymore, I knew he didn’t feel the same way and that it bothered him he still couldn’t remember. Now feeling like his mother may have come out ahead of me in our invisible race for his affections, I wondered if those three weeks could push me to the front of the line, so I hesitantly asked, “Are you sure you don’t want to take a quick ride to Miramar?”
It was literally minutes away and considering we didn’t have Terry there to make any of the arrangements, I doubted we’d be able to get onto the base anyway. I was just hoping the sight of the gate where Eric had finally realized why we were there and had become so excited would come back to him again.
He looked a lot tenser than he should have considering how we’d spent our night and roughly ran his hands through his hair before sighing, “Yes, I’m sure.” His eyes stared down at me with a look I hadn’t seen in a long while as he asked in a challenging tone, “Are you pushing for it so we won’t see my mother?”
The gauntlet had been thrown and was lying there just waiting for me to pick it up and swing it at him to start our next fight. Honestly, Tyson and Holyfield had nothing on us because at times I’d wanted to bite off more than just the tip of his ear, but be it over drugs or an argument, I refused to lose him because of that woman. Instead of snapping back at him, I sighed myself and calmly said, “No, you just made mention of your missing time again yesterday and I thought it might help. We can do it on another day if you want or we could still do the whale watching boat tour sometime.”
Since our championship fuckathon was over Eric must have been itching for another kind of battle and he took my peace offering and promptly threw it back at me scoffing, “What’s the point? It’s been almost six months. If I haven’t remembered anything by now, I’m not going to.”
We were already in the car by then, with us in the backseat and Rasul at the wheel, and I shrank back from him a little even as I reached out and put my hand on his knee. He was getting wound tighter and tighter and I knew it was because of his mother. It made me hate her even more seeing how much just the idea of her possibly being there or not was affecting him, but rather than throw that in his face I just softly said, “I’m sorry. You know it doesn’t matter to me though, right? It doesn’t change anything.”
Other than give her the lead in our Eric-athon.
Since the hospital was literally minutes away too Eric didn’t have the opportunity to answer me, but I felt better when he reached for my hand as we made our way inside. All three of us scanned the different people in the lobby, but Eric’s mother was nowhere to be seen and I made sure to keep my internal sigh of relief to myself as we stepped onto the elevator. Eric looked lost in his thoughts, but knowing we could no longer avoid his Ghost of Mothers Past, I squeezed his hand and asked, “What are we going to tell your dad?”
Eric didn’t bother to hide his sigh and slumped in the spot he stood, saying, “I’m hoping we won’t have to. She knows he’s not here until lunchtime, so…if she shows up, it’ll be in the morning. They probably won’t even run into each other.”
I didn’t have the heart to tell Eric that we’d probably used up all of our ‘beating the odds’ points and half thought about getting him a pack of Skittles from the vending machine he could eat for breakfast so he’d have a better chance of shooting rainbows from his ass. Instead I’m sure both of our asses puckered as we stepped off of the elevator and turned towards the NICU seeing Eric’s dad standing there glaring.
At Eric’s mother.
She was standing there – or rather she was shrinking back from his looming stance – holding a stuffed dolphin from one of the many places that sold them thanks to Sea World being right there in San Diego. But instead of feeling any warmth over her little gift, I let out a little scoff thinking she couldn’t even get that right.
If she were a better mother she’d know to get a WHALE.
At my audible impersonation of being the Scoff Monster both of their heads turned and given whatever he saw on our faces had Eric’s dad saying, “I take it you’ve already met then, so I guess I’m the only asshole left in the dark up until now.”
The hurt in his voice was undeniable and I would’ve gone straight over to him if it hadn’t been for Eric’s vice like grip on my hand. It made my earlier thoughts come back to me and I made a mental note to have Pam or Alcide get Eric’s dad from the gutter while I dragged Eric off to rehab when this was all said and done.
Maybe they could share a room.
“What’s going on?” Eric hesitantly asked.
“What’s going on,” Eric’s dad repeated with his glare now trained on us, “is I came to visit my granddaughter since I have my AA meeting later on this evening and while I was visiting my granddaughter one of the nurses came up and said there was a woman out here making a ruckus saying she was Lilly’s grandmother and was trying to see her. I thought maybe Adele had flown back out and you all forgot to tell me, so I came out to see and this,” he spat with his glare turned back to her, “is who I found.”
All Eric and I could do was stand there and gape at the two of them when Eric’s dad seemed to have enough and growled out, “Since I don’t need to make any introductions, I’ll be on my way.”
I started trying to pull my hand free from Eric’s, having every intention of grabbing onto his dad because I didn’t want him to leave when he was so obviously hurt, but it made no difference because instead of storming past us towards the elevators, he turned and made a beeline for the stairwell, disappearing through the door seconds later.
We all stood there momentarily shocked with no one saying anything, but as soon as I looked up into Eric’s remorseful eyes still trained on the stairwell door, I found my voice again. I patted his chest with one hand while I pulled the other free from his grip and said, “You stay and…visit and I’ll go after him.”
I didn’t really want to leave him alone with her, but I couldn’t be in two places at once and hoped she couldn’t do that much damage to him in the time I would be gone. Eric finally let go of me and nodded mutely, but I may have shot my own disapproving glare at his mother as Rasul and I sped past her to on our way to the stairwell.
We flew down the stairs all the way to the parking garage, but we had no way of knowing if he was already long gone. I didn’t want to waste time searching through a sea of cars looking for his, so I leaned against our own car and pulled my phone out hoping he’d take my call. I reckoned it seemed the man was just as pigheaded as his son (and perhaps daughter-in-law) when he let it go to voicemail, but thanks to all of the fuckedupness that was our daily lives, Eric had thought to have his dad’s phone added onto our Big Brother plan on the off chance it would be his turn to have his own stalker. Rasul was able to hone in on his signal just a minute later and we hopped in our car with me hoping like hell he wouldn’t go back to L.A. He’d found a new AA group there in San Diego and hadn’t gone home in weeks, so I breathed a sigh of relief when it appeared he was sticking to the city limits, but that relief was quickly flushed down the drain when we finally came up to where his signal had stopped moving.
He was in a bar.
I was surprised it was even open considering the early hour, but given the seedy section of town we were in I shouldn’t have been. Thankfully the bar was nearly empty so it was easy to spot him just sitting down in a booth in the corner and I ran over in time to see him staring wistfully down at the glass of whiskey in front of him and begged, “Please don’t do this.”
Rasul took up a spot just in front of our table with his back turned to us while I slid into the booth across from him, but Eric’s dad didn’t seem to notice anything but the amber liquid in front of him. I started to wonder if he’d even noticed me at all when he finally asked, “How long?”
I wasn’t sure if he was asking how long she’d been in town; how long she was staying; or how long we’d known she was around, but before I could ask, he gave me a hint by adding, “I have a hard time believing she’s been around for very long. Eric might be able to bluff a poker hand, but I’d like to think I know him well enough by now to have spotted something like this.”
I nearly reached for his hand when I saw it move towards the glass, but he stopped himself while we both watched it shake and before I could say anything his hand formed into a fist and pounded the tabletop making the liquid nearly slosh out of the full glass. Slumping back in his seat and mimicking Eric’s earlier moves by running his hands through his hair, he mumbled, “Shit. Maybe I just want to believe I know him better now. Serves me right, I guess, to think I could have any kind of father/son relationship with him now after all of the bullshit I put him through growing up.”
“Stop it!” I snapped at him despite the tears in my eyes from seeing the struggle in his. “Eric loves you – we both do – and I’m sorry we didn’t warn you, but she just showed up yesterday out of the blue. Eric and I were too busy fighting about it and then avoiding the topic altogether, but we should have told you. After everything you’ve done for us, you deserved better than that. I’m truly sorry.”
“What have I done?” he scoffed. “I accused him of marrying you for your tits and then added on in my bid to become father of the year by calling you a money grubbing whore on top of it. His entire life I’ve done nothing more than make him feel like a burden while guilting him into believing I’d sacrificed my life’s dreams for him.”
His hand came down and gripped the glass, but he made no move to lift it, only saying, “He never had any idea…he was my life, but in my drunken stupidity I thought I was doing him a favor by teaching him early on not to depend on anyone emotionally. His mother taught me that and yet he spent every night wishing for his mother to come back and save him from me. Thanks to me and all of my fatherly coaching, I nearly ended up getting him killed.”
Eric had never told him the reason behind his descent into drug addiction, but I knew it was to spare his father from having to relive the pain of knowing the woman who he’d loved had come back, even if it was only long enough for her to nearly destroy Eric too. But now hearing him take the blame all on himself, I couldn’t stand it. The cat was out of the bag anyway now that he’d seen her, so I started off by saying, “Eric doesn’t blame you. The fact you knew about the book and those damn flowers did him a world of good and everything you’ve done since you showed up on Christmas Eve has made up for whatever you did to him as a child. He has a better understanding now and he’s forgiven you, but this right here,” I pointed at the glass in between us, “is why he never told you about the other time Crystal waltzed into his life.”
His head shot up with his eyes trained on me as he let that sink in before asking, “What are you talking about?”
In for a penny, in for a pound…
I knew it wasn’t my story to tell and hoped Eric would forgive me, but I also knew how much he worried his father would fall off of the wagon if he ever learned about that time in his life. I figured since we were already teetering on the edge of it, we had nothing to lose and could only hope by telling him, it would pull him back instead.
It didn’t take much recollection on my part since that story was all I could think about since finding him in the cafeteria with her the day before and I started at the beginning. How she’d waited for him outside of the coffee shop he used to frequent and then quickly worked her way into his life. How he’d gotten her an apartment and supported her while she wormed her way into his heart. How she claimed she’d gotten clean, but even if she had been it didn’t take long for her to start draining him – emotionally and financially. How when he finally realized she was using again he tried to help her, begged her to see reason and offered to pay for her to go to rehab. How he thought it would be enough. How he’d thought he finally had his mother back and that she’d fight her addiction for him because he loved her enough to fight for her, so when she disappeared from his life – again – without so much as a goodbye, he nearly killed himself with cocaine because the only thing his mother had taught him was that he wasn’t enough.
Remembering it all and saying it out loud was only serving to make me angrier, but I didn’t have time to let it fester and I grabbed onto both of his hands with my own, pleading, “Don’t you see? Eric needs you now more than ever. I don’t trust that woman to not hurt Eric all over again and if you feel like you should’ve done better by him as a child, then stand up and be there for him now. Don’t do this to yourself or him.”
Eric would be devastated to lose his dad all over again and the tears finally spilled over my cheeks as I softly cried, “You’re the only parent we have left.”
He sniffled trying to fight off the tears in his own eyes, but my breath got caught in my lungs when he pulled one of his hands from mine to grip the glass. I could do nothing but watch as he lifted it to his face and took a long drag of the aroma, but seeing him place the otherwise untouched glass off to the side I released a shaky exhale.
The smirk I’d come to realize was a Northman genetic trait appeared on his lips as he tried to lighten the mood, saying, “Jesus Sook. Eric told me your tears were like Kryptonite. He wasn’t kidding.”
I couldn’t help snorting a little and slid out of the booth, pulling him by his hands until he stood up in front of me, and wrapped my arms around him sniffling into his chest, “Well then it’s lucky for me that I married into a family full of Supermen.”
“No,” he said softly and pulled my chin up so I’d look into his eyes before placing a peck on my forehead. “We’re the lucky ones.”
Damn charming Northman men making me blubber like a baby.
We left the bar with Rasul and me following his car all the way back to the hospital, but Eric’s dad headed into the cafeteria to get a cup of coffee while he waited to hear when the coast was clear. He was afraid he wouldn’t be able to hold his tongue if he came face to face with Eric’s mom again and didn’t want to make it even harder on him, so I promised to let him know as soon as she was gone and headed up.
We’d been gone for well over an hour by then and as Rasul and I stepped off of the elevator and turned towards the NICU we saw Eric emerging through the doors alone. We both ran towards each other with him saying, “Where is he?” at the same time I said, “Where is she?”
It was an impasse until he finally replied, “I was coming out to call you. She’s grabbing her things,” but just as he’d said the words, she walked out.
She looked nervous as hell and her eyes darted to me as she said, “Hello again Sookie.”
I bit back every nasty thing I was thinking and took one for the team – Team Northman – and only said, “Hello Crystal.”
Eric’s eyes danced nervously between the two of us – I wouldn’t be surprised to learn he had a telepathic connection to me and could hear the stream of curse words going through my mind – but he seemed to relax a little when I didn’t let any of them out and broke the silence by saying, “She saw Lilly.”
Then can she fucking leave already?
“Yes,” she smiled, making me wonder if she was the telepathic one. I tried not to grimace as my hopes were dashed when she added, “I did. She’s so small – the stuffed animal I brought was bigger than she is – so unlike her father.” Her eyes almost reluctantly moved to look at Eric when she softly added, “You were a big baby.”
He was NOT a big baby! You abandoned him for HEROIN! TWICE!
Rationally, I knew she was talking about his infancy and not his emotional character, but I wasn’t feeling all that rational at the moment. After rehashing the story for Eric’s dad, I was left feeling raw from it all, so rather than stand there and possibly tell her exactly what I thought of her – thereby hurting Eric – I forced a smile onto my face that only became genuine when Eric said, “She’s leaving. She’s got to get back for work.”
I could tell Eric was still out of sorts and only hoped and prayed that her visit went well enough that he wouldn’t be left brooding once she was gone, so I maintained my smile and politely said, “Well, I’ll leave you two to say your goodbyes then. It was…”
Tortuous? Distressing? Agonizing cruelty that should only be heaped on the vilest dregs of society?
“…nice to finally meet you Crystal.”
Woo boy…that hurt.
I all but ran into the next room to scrub up, but sent Eric’s dad a quick text first telling him she would be leaving in a few minutes and once I was sufficiently clean I walked into the NICU. Lilly was sleeping, but seeing the stuffed dolphin lying alongside her had me wishing they made a Crystal cootie spray while I snatched the offending plush toy out of there and chucked it onto the floor by my purse.
Because it should’ve been a WHALE.