Sookie couldn’t seem to get away from us fast enough – albeit a lot more politely than she’d been the day before – and I was torn between going after her to find out what happened with my dad and seeing my mom off. Ultimately my mother won out because I couldn’t be sure if or when I’d see her again and I knew Sookie wouldn’t have appeared so calm if any serious damage had been done to my relationship with my father.
I silently followed her to the elevator and she seemed startled to see me step in with her as she said, “Oh, you don’t have to come down with me.”
Did she not want me to?
She hadn’t really shown much of a reaction to me at all and other than the obvious tension she felt seeing my father again when we’d first come up on them earlier, her face had been locked down until she openly gushed over finally seeing Lilly. I didn’t know what to make of it at the time and wasn’t really jealous per se, but it still stung a little knowing it wasn’t really me she was there to see and I tried to be happy that at least my daughter could make her face light up like it did.
Nope. I wasn’t jealous.
Well…maybe a little.
But Lilly had the power to make even Pam drop her bitchface and morph into a normal human being, so I shouldn’t have been surprised to see her magic work on her own grandmother and it was that biological fact that had me staying put inside of the elevator as I said, “I don’t mind. I could use a cup of coffee anyway.”
“Oh,” she said looking flustered. “I don’t have time for coffee. The bus back to San Francisco leaves soon.”
She’d told me the day before she had eventually ended up there and gotten a job working as a waitress at a little diner, but she only had a few days off before she had to be back at work. I internally winced over the idea of her having to take a bus all the way back knowing what a long and uncomfortable ride that would be and my mind immediately flashed to the car rental place just down the street from the hospital, but I kept it to myself and only shrugged indifferently as I said, “That’s okay. I still want a cup of coffee.”
And a fucking clue on how I should feel about you.
Since I didn’t know how to feel and she hadn’t made any mention of keeping in touch, I tentatively put myself out there by asking, “Do you…want my phone number? You know, just in case?”
Just in case you need something?
Just in case you need me?
Just in case you need money…
Before I could latch onto that depressing thought, I sounded pitiful even to my own ears as I said, “If you give me your phone I’ll text myself so we’ll both be able to call…each other…whenever.”
I’d seen the cell phone in her bag earlier, but hearing my pathetic request she clutched at her purse like I was demanding she hand it over at gunpoint and said, “Oh. My phone…is uh…dead. The battery is dead,” but seeing God knows what look on my face – nothing good I suspected, considering what else I now suspected she might have in her purse – she dug out a slip of paper and quickly jotted down her number and handed it to me before having me do the same.
With that taken care of, now that we were in the hospital lobby, there was nothing left to do but actually say goodbye, and not wanting to incite a media frenzy by walking her outside, I said, “So, I guess I’ll uh…talk to you…soon?”
Completely and utterly pathetic.
“Sure,” she smiled, but it didn’t reach her eyes. There was something else there behind them, but I had no clue what it was.
I couldn’t begin to guess what she was regretting since her whole fucking life should be chock full of them, but now that I had Sookie, I no longer felt a lot of the anguish I used to thanks to my mother. Sookie had healed more of the pain I’d carried inside than I even knew I had, but some of it was still there and I doubted I’d ever be rid of it entirely. It helped having my father back in my life and only served to remind me that I needed to find him and apologize.
But, as far as my mother was concerned, I knew what addiction felt like and tried to reason to myself that she was simply too weak to overcome it at the time. I didn’t believe she had intentionally set out to hurt me therefore I thought I should be the bigger one and let it go, hoping maybe we could start over with a clean slate.
So it was being in that frame of mind that had me reaching for my wallet and pulling out the few hundred dollars I had in there, and handing it over to her while not thinking about what she might use it to buy, as I said, “Here, take this just in case.” She couldn’t have been earning much money and she hadn’t actually asked me for any, so I didn’t feel bad offering it to her knowing she could likely use it.
“Eric, I…” she hesitated with her eyes darting to the money in my outstretched hand and back to my eyes before she finally took it and quietly whispered, “Thank you.”
Her arms wrapped around me as she briefly hugged me to her and I tried to lock down my own emotions as she quietly whispered, “I’m sorry,” into my chest before making a hasty exit out of the hospital.
Well, at least that was something new. She actually sounded sincere.
I didn’t want to hang around deliberating over it and inadvertently leave myself open to any well-meaning fans looking for an autograph, so I headed to the cafeteria to get that cup of coffee and was surprised to run into my father on his way out. I hadn’t known if he’d left the hospital or stayed, but I was glad to see him. I’d felt horrible over the way he’d found out about my mother coming back and wanted to apologize for not telling him sooner, but looking at him now, the words got stuck in my throat. We were the same height and yet I felt like I was a child all over again, peering up at him just waiting for the yelling to start about what a disappointment I was.
At least this time it would be true.
Maybe my mother’s visit fucked with my head more than I knew.
The apology was already locked and loaded, but it was still jammed up in my throat when his hand landed on my shoulder and squeezing it slightly, he said, “Sookie just texted me that your mother was leaving. Are you doing alright?”
I’d purposely not dealt with her unexpected arrival the day before, so even now I still didn’t know what to make of it. The shock of seeing her again is what I felt the most, but I thought I’d done a pretty good job of keeping her at arm’s length, emotionally speaking. Sookie had made it perfectly clear she didn’t trust her – not that I could blame her – and I wasn’t dumb enough to make the same mistake twice. She’d burned me once already, so I was doing my best at only trying to have realistic expectations of her now. Maybe we’d talk every once in a while and catch up with each other’s lives, but I didn’t think she’d suddenly become the mother I’d always dreamed of having.
My happily ever after was already spoken for and was spelled S-O-O-K-I-E.
My eyes subconsciously darted down at my tattooed finger as a reminder before coming back up to rest on my father’s face again. Seeing the concern in his eyes I knew I didn’t have to worry if my mother never contacted me again.
The only parent I needed was standing right there staring back at me.
“I’m fine,” I finally answered and threw my arm around his shoulders to lead him back into the cafeteria where I eventually did apologize and told him about her visit. There wasn’t much to tell, but when I started to tell him about the other time we’d crossed paths – thinking he deserved to know the whole truth – he held up his hand and stopped me, telling me Sookie had already filled him in. Hearing about where she found him and what caused her to spill the beans, I couldn’t be mad at her. She’d stopped him from taking the first step in what could potentially be his downward spiral into the bottom of a bottle and it dawned on me then just how much I owed her.
She’d gotten better over the past several months, but there were times when her panties still got twisted over what she deemed frivolous spending – I was already preparing myself for the Battle Royale when she got a look at the new SUV I’d ordered in the days following Lilly’s unexpected arrival – but no matter how much money we had, no matter how much I spent on her, it would never be enough to repay her for what she’d given me.
She’d given me a home.
She’d given me purpose.
She’d given me a daughter.
She’d given me worth – more than any dollar amount on a bank statement could ever reflect.
In hindsight, I had already been heading down that same road that led me to rehab the first time when something about her must have drawn me to her in Vegas. In the days, weeks, and now months that followed, being with her is what had kept me on the straight and narrow and – by his own admission – is what ultimately made my father want to give sobriety a try. Thanks to her I had him back – twice now. Thanks to her I had a life and a family I still wasn’t so sure I deserved.
How could I possibly ever repay her for that?
In the days following my mother’s visit Lilly’s lung function improved to the point where she no longer needed any help to breathe and I wasn’t ashamed in the least little bit when the tears fell freely down my face when I got to hold her for the very first time. She was still incredibly small, but she’d finally grown bigger than my hand – although not by much – and she proved she was her mother’s daughter when she smacked me in the face as I told her how great life in a convent would be.
Quick flying Stackhouse hands were apparently a genetic trait.
Now that we’d reached another milestone I felt like everything was going great and things were finally looking up for us. Sookie had kept a wary eye on me ever since the day my mother had left, worried I would succumb to whatever horrors she’d imagined in her head, but I really did feel okay and she seemed to eventually believe me. Even so, more than once I thought about calling my mother just to make sure she’d gotten back to San Francisco okay, but I always stopped myself before I could hit the send button and ultimately I just tried to push her into the far corners of my mind deciding to leave it up to her to make the first move.
And if she never did – I really was okay with that too.
It had been close to a week after my mother’s departure when we were sitting in the NICU early one morning with me watching Sookie hold Lilly – once again playfully arguing over who she took after – when Rasul stepped in, telling me, “Pam called. She wants you to call her. Now.”
We always kept our phones on silent when we were in the NICU, but I had a feeling she wanted to talk about the sitcom and as bad as I felt for everyone else on the show, it only took me staring down at Sookie and Lilly to come to a final decision. Going away to film movies on location were going to be bad enough, but I would miss too much of their lives working the daily grind of a television show. At least I could make sure they would be able to come with me on most of the movie shoots in the future – Greenland notwithstanding – but I didn’t want to miss out on everything. With Lilly getting bigger by the day there were a finite number of ‘firsts’ we had to look forward to and we were fortunate enough that neither one of us had to work. I didn’t necessarily want to give up acting altogether, but there were ways I could stay in the business and still have a personal life. Sookie had already told me a couple of days earlier that she wanted to stay home to raise Lilly which I was completely – perhaps selfishly – on board with and we didn’t get any sleep that night celebrating her early retirement, so why would I chose something that would take me away from them?
After giving each of them a quick peck on their heads, I ducked out to call Pam and decided to get a cup of coffee while I was at it. I waited until I had the cup in my hand and took a seat in the nearly empty cafeteria before pulling out my phone to call her, but seeing the numerous text and email alerts already loaded onto my phone, I quickly scrolled through them and stopped on the most recent text from Pam.
‘Heads will fucking roll. I’ll make sure of it, but it’s already too late for me to stop it. I’m sorry.’
Attached to the text was a link for one of the celebrity gossip rags and I clicked on it wondering what they could possibly be reporting that would have her up in arms.
When she held Lilly she fucking cried too, so it wasn’t like I was the only one.
I thought perhaps it was some sort of salacious scoop on what was going on inside of the NICU from the mysterious and never named but always well informed ‘sources’, but it was a good thing I’d been sitting down because I felt the blood rush down to my toes when my screen lit up and I probably would’ve fallen over. Staring back at me wasn’t a bunch of bullshit ‘sources’ account of our lives, but a picture of Lilly in her incubator still covered in tubes and wires, some of which she no longer wore. The blood quickly rose up until I was sure my face was on fire from the anger now boiling through me and I stood up with enough force that my chair flew backwards as I started stomping my way out of the cafeteria wanting heads to fucking roll. Up until then I’d had no issues with the hospital’s security measures, but it was obviously lacking considering someone had somehow managed to take a picture of my daughter and sell it to the highest bidder. Sookie and I were protective of her – overprotective considering how fragile she was – and even though we’d known she’d be photographed eventually, we didn’t want it to be like this.
Hadn’t we already gone through enough?
Hadn’t we already paid a high enough price just for having the audacity of wanting to try and lead a normal life?
I was supposed to protect them from this bullshit, but it was glaringly apparently everything I had done so far wasn’t enough and it wasn’t until I angrily stabbed the button to call the elevator when I realized just how deeply my failure went.
I’d been too busy seeing red to notice the stuffed dolphin lying next to Lilly. It was the toy my mother had brought with her and the same one Sookie had promptly snatched from the incubator when she’d gone into the NICU. I remembered our silent stare down when I’d seen it on the floor after I’d gone back in there and had it been a stuffed whale I might have found it in me to argue with her over it, but I had already been feeling bad for snapping at her earlier and dolphins weren’t my thing so I didn’t say anything when she took it with us that night and gave it to Bubba.
But seeing it now being used to show just how small and fragile our daughter was, with her picture shown side by side with a second identical stuffed dolphin showing its size next to a ruler – I knew it could only be one person who’d taken that picture. It had been a premeditated and calculated move by the one person I’d thought to protect myself from, but hadn’t thought twice about putting my daughter in her sights. I failed in not only protecting Lilly but now Sookie too since she would be devastated once she found out what had happened.
What I let happen because I’d been played by my own mother.
I ignored the now waiting elevator and stormed off, scrolling through my contacts and hitting the send button on my mother’s phone number. Considering the evidence I now had of just how much of a cold bitch she was, I wasn’t surprised when I got an automated message saying the number was no longer in service, but I still wanted fucking answers. I wanted this nightmare to not be my reality where my own fucking mother screwed me over – and for what?
A few thousand dollars?
If I had known that was what she’d been after all along, I would’ve paid her that much and more just to fucking go away and now remembering how she’d taken the cash I’d offered to her as she was leaving that day – knowing she was going to be paid even more once she sold my fucking daughter to the wolves at the gate – I wanted to fucking kill her.
She’d said she was sorry. I just didn’t know it had nothing to do with any remorse she was incapable of feeling and instead was only because she made Joan Crawford look like June Cleaver.
In my rage, I didn’t think and just slipped out a side entrance I’d never noticed before – thereby avoiding the other wolves in front of the hospital – and went for a walk to clear my head, only my head just seemed to become more and more clouded with every step I took. When I finally looked up I noticed the car rental place I’d briefly pondered over hearing my mother would be taking a bus back home, and now imagining her trolling around in a limo my fucking daughter’s privacy paid for had me marching inside and renting a car.
Because I needed to keep moving.
I needed to get answers.
I needed to somehow fix this clusterfuck even though I knew it was already way too late for that.
As soon as I was in the car headed north on the highway I realized I didn’t even know where she fucking lived. I could no longer believe a fucking word that had come out of her lying fucking mouth, but I did know the gossip rag’s headquarters were in L.A., so I figured that was a good enough place to start. I didn’t think they’d know or tell me where she was, nor did I want to give them another photo opportunity with me storming into their offices and trashing everything in sight, so I stewed in my own anger the entire way there and as soon as I took the exit off the highway, I headed straight to the neighborhood where she’d lived before.
On my fucking dime.
Considering I hadn’t thought to put my mother up in crack alley – even that would be too good for her now – I still drove the surrounding streets looking for something – anything that would lead me to her.
Unfortunately there weren’t any flashing signs saying, ‘Evil fucking bitches that should’ve had their cunts sewn shut: Line up here.’
The sun was already falling from the sky when it occurred to me to drive to the neighborhood where my parents had lived when I’d first been born. It wasn’t the best then and had gotten even worse in the years that followed, so there were a lot more crackerific places to look for her. I knew it was a longshot, but I still drove slowly up and down each and every street, stopping and staring at every waif-like woman who looked like my mother from a distance, only to be disappointed when I got close enough to realize it wasn’t her. I didn’t even know what I would do if I found her now that my anger had turned into despair.
Sookie would know about the pictures by now.
She would know that I failed in protecting her and our daughter.
From my own mother.
I hadn’t bothered to look at my cell phone after shoving it into my pocket when I rented the car, but even though I’d left it on silent I could still practically feel the missed calls vibrating on my leg. But I couldn’t bear to look. I didn’t know what to say.
How could I plead for her forgiveness when I couldn’t even forgive myself?
My mood must have brought on the rain clouds because a storm moved in which called an end to my fruitless search since everyone who’d been out on the streets scattered looking for shelter. I didn’t know what to do – where to go. I couldn’t drive back to San Diego just yet because I didn’t know what to say to Sookie and I was more scared of what she might say to me.
Would this be it?
Would this be what finally made her realize that she’d be better off without me?
Would she realize I wasn’t worth it and never really was?
She could go back to Louisiana with Lilly and live a normal life where no one would dog their every step. I’d already made that possible by giving her a readymade dream house to live in, so why wouldn’t she want to go? If she decided I wasn’t worth the hassle anymore, then she had no reason to stay. She had nothing tying her to California other than me and imagining them in the house we’d picked out together, living a quiet life – a life I once thought I would share – I couldn’t even picture me with them anymore.
I didn’t want to return to our house either, not ready to face the emptiness that would surround me for the rest of my life, and found myself pulling up to one of my former hangouts. It was more of a bar than a club, but all I wanted was a drink or ten to dull the growing pain inside of me. It was the middle of the week, so it wasn’t too crowded and I made my way to the bar and ordered a Jack and Coke, but inadvertently made myself feel worse saying that name out loud.
Johnny Depp was single now, so Sookie could conceivably end up with him. He even had a daughter named Lily so it would already feel natural to him to say it.
My mood had quickly spiraled downward from there and I was mired down in my own gloom working on my second drink when I felt someone’s presence to my right. I caught a flash of blond hair in my peripheral and my head whipped around thinking Sookie had somehow found me – had somehow forgiven me and cared enough to come after me – so my heart once again shattered seeing it was just another faceless blond.
Because Sookie wasn’t going to come after me.
I wasn’t worth it.
“You look like you could use a friend,” she softly smiled at me.
I could use a time machine more.
When I actually thought about it, I may as well have been in one because it was very likely exactly one year ago I had been in that same bar with another faceless blond on the barstool next to mine. The only difference was I wouldn’t have been staring back at her letting my eyes go out of focus to see if I could squint enough for me to believe it was Sookie smiling back at me.
Her smiles were priceless and had I known I only had a limited amount of them, I wouldn’t have squandered them away.
“Do you want to tell me about it?” she asked while coyly stroking my forearm.
I cringed at the contact and pulled away to swallow the rest of my drink whole while wondering if this was now my life. Would I be sitting there night after night doomed to pick up blonds I could only squint myself into believing they were Sookie? Would I have to douse them in cherry scented soap before fucking them with a blindfold on to try and hide the truth from myself? Would I even be able to get it up considering the amount of alcohol I’d have to have in my system in order to delude myself into believing they were Sookie?
Did I even want to?
The thought of being with anyone else – much less Sookie being with anyone else – threatened what little hold I still had over my sanity and the contents of my stomach. I’d already lived that life and wanted no part of returning to it.
What in the fuck was I doing?
I was drowning my sorrows when I should be on my knees in front of Sookie begging her for her forgiveness and if that didn’t work I could always pick up those gold and platinum chains until I could convince her otherwise. The very real thought of losing her now overrode my selfish and guilt fueled stupor with my brain kicking into overdrive on what I needed to do to fix it and the more I thought about it, the more I realized how much I’d overreacted earlier.
We may have been drunk when we got married, but Sookie had eventually known who and what she was dealing with when she decided to stay with me. Even without those missing three weeks of my memory there had been more than enough bullshit we’d had to face together – the paparazzi; the amnesia; the stalkers and the aftermath – and she’d never once said, “Enough.”
Maybe I was enough after all?
I’d watched what she’d dubbed our iPorn too many times to count, but what always stuck out to me the most was me begging her to never leave me and her promise not to.
And she’d kept that promise in spades.
Now I felt like I was no better than my mother – running away at the first sign of trouble and turning to a piss poor chemical substitute that would never be able to fill the void I’d have without her in my life, no matter how many bottles I got to the bottom of. The thought of Lilly growing up and resenting me for not being there to be a part of her life only added to my pain – almost as much as the thought of Sookie finding someone else to fill that role if I abandoned them.
Nothing about our relationship was normal – or ever had been – and while my own mother selling us out didn’t help matters, it seemed to stick with the theme of our life together.
Maybe I didn’t get the chance to court her properly. Maybe she didn’t get to have the wedding she’d always dreamed of having and God knows I’d probably never be able to give her a ‘normal’ life, but the only thing she’d ever shown me was her acceptance of what was because she was happy with the truth of what is.
And the truth is that we loved one another. The rest was just details.
“Well?” the faceless blond asked, leaning over just enough to put her cleavage on display and licking her lips to let me know she was offering me a hell of a lot more than just a shoulder to cry on.
“No thanks,” I said to more than just her offer. I was done with that life and had been ever since Sookie had come into mine. Standing up and throwing a couple of bills onto the bar to settle my tab, I added, “I need to get back to my wife.”
My wife – my life – they were one and the same.
But first I needed to make a quick stop because while too many tequila shots may have made her choice for her in walking down the aisle and unwittingly step into the spotlight of the fucked up world I lived in, I wanted to show her I still meant everything I’d drunkenly promised her that night. That she would always be my one and only choice and I could only hope she would still feel the same when I asked her.
Because when it came to my life with her, I was all in.