Hearing the familiar tune blaring out over the loud speakers, once again welcoming the crowd to the jungle, they went wild.
Just as wild as my heartbeat, with my eyes wildly skittering across the stands, looking for the familiar blond hair of my fiancé who had yet to make an appearance.
Her new title still hadn’t really sunk in to my psyche.
It seemed too good to be true and yet I knew it was.
Sookie had actually said yes.
Our hotel room had barely survived the celebration.
We’d celebrated all over it.
Walls. Sofas. Coffee table and credenzas.
Nothing had been spared from our celebratory sex-a-thon.
The only dampener on the celebration had come when our plane landed back home and I watched Sookie regretfully slip my ring off of her finger and into her pocket.
I’d known it was coming and even understood the rationale behind it – wanting to give her family a heads up about our relationship before learning their family was about to expand by one red poppy – but it still stung.
She’d worn it in the days that followed whenever it was just her and I, handing it over the moment we were together so I could slip it onto her finger all over again. But whenever she was out – in the world where we were still a secret – she would wear it on a long chain around her neck, nestled inside of her shirt and close to her heart.
An appropriate place for it, considering it was the same place where she kept me, even if I was sometimes quite literally inside of her shirt and doing very inappropriate things to her while I was there.
But today was the day.
D for divulge, since that’s what Sookie planned on doing.
Divulging our relationship to her family.
Hopefully it wouldn’t end up standing for ‘denounce’ when all was said and done.
It was her biggest fear and the cause for keeping our relationship a secret. And I didn’t know her family at all to be able to tell her it would happen any differently. But from the outside looking in, if they were as close as they seemed to be, I couldn’t imagine them turning their backs on her, just because she happened to fall in love with the ‘enemy’.
The rivalry between our two sides was very real, but it wasn’t the Hatfield’s and McCoy’s real.
In fact, I suspected the only blood that would be shed would be my own, when her brother got in a punch to my face when he found out the truth.
I was already expecting it and looked forward to it even.
Because it would mean we wouldn’t have to hide anymore.
So my little chicken shit was planning on telling her parents about us sometime during the game in the hopes her father wouldn’t lose his cool in a crowd of spectators.
And with the crowd of trained first responders around, the method to her madness would also work in her favor if he ended up having a heart attack hearing the news.
A heart attack had been why he’d been forced to retire from the force to begin with.
I didn’t blame her for being leery, not wanting to be the cause for his second brush with death.
God knows I would feel guilty as hell if he ended up kicking the bucket all because I couldn’t walk away from his daughter.
Not that I’d ever tried to walk away from her.
So that fact would only compound my guilt if he died.
But Sookie had planned the entire thing out.
The timing of her reveal.
How she would put it into words.
What her arguments would be to counteract any arguments they would make to her against us being together.
It was all very elaborate.
She’d even made a mockup of the ball field and stands.
With a seating arrangement.
And included a map legend that was color coded.
And I got another playful punch to the ribs, when after she’d spelled it all out for me, my first response had been an amused soft shake of my head, while I said, “You’re telling them about our relationship, not invading France.”
At least it had calmed her down some, but now that she was still MIA from the softball game, I was starting to get worried. She was picking up her parents at the airport and then driving them straight here, so I hoped she was just stuck in traffic or that their flight was late, instead of my little chicken shit being too chicken shit to go through with her elaborate plans.
The only thing that kept me from getting too worried was the knowledge she’d added an emergency evacuation route on her map.
One that led us to my car and ended with us living on the Paradise Coast.
Sookie had planned for every outcome, but every outcome she planned all culminated with us together at the end.
So I would just have to trust in that and let the chips fall where they may in the meantime.
But while I’d been ruminating over my missing fiancé, the song had ended so I followed my fellow firemen into the dugout. The game was being held on the Police Athletic League softball field, so we were the away team, which meant we went up to bat first.
I recognized their pitcher and knew she wasn’t someone to be messed with.
At the plate or out on a call.
Kenya Jones was no joke.
So hearing the probie at my side on the bench, yelling out a slew of derogatory remarks to her, I turned towards him and warned, “Cool it, Flunky. Not only are there little kids around who can hear your asshattery, she’ll knock you on your ass when you’re up at the plate.”
All of us would be targets.
Andre Paul had been on the job for a grand total of one month.
And since it had taken him a grand total of five times to pass the test to become a fireman, his nickname hadn’t taken nearly as long to catch on.
“But that’s what we do,” he argued. “They say shit about us and we say shit about them.”
“You have shit for brains,” I argued in return. “So just keep your trap shut and learn from your betters or else I’ll have you polishing the undercarriage of the rig when we get back to the station.”
Normally I wouldn’t care about anyone talking smack to the opposition, but today wasn’t a normal day.
It was D-Day.
The last thing I wanted was for my future in-laws to wander by and get a whiff of the assholery going on in our dugout thanks to shit for brains Flunky.
The shitty scent would cling to me and I would be guilty by association.
I already had enough working against me for merely associating with their daughter. I didn’t need ass face adding any more strikes against me.
But Flunky wasn’t called flunky for nothing. The fact it had taken him so many times to pass the test I had since learned was a true indicator of his entire persona. He had a devil may care attitude and a God complex.
In his own mind, he knew it all and would live forever.
It was something I’d been trying to break him of since his first day on the job, but he had a thick skull.
Like secret-government-think-tank-in-the-bowels-of-a-secret-government-hideaway thick.
I worried nothing short of a direct hit by a nuclear warhead would be able to penetrate it.
So his responding scowl aimed my way wasn’t all that surprising, but he swallowed whatever retort was on the tip of his tongue when Jake called out from a few feet down the bench, “Man, I don’t miss doing that.”
And then turning his own scowl towards me, he asked, “But did you have to drive through a muddy field before you made me clean the bottom of the rig?”
“Have you lost the keys to the rig since then?” I asked with a smirk.
Jake was known for losing everything, to include his gear, his phone, and his head whenever a pretty woman was around.
That was how he’d somehow managed to lose the keys to the rig, putting them down on a shelf in the grocery store, while attempting to pick one up.
“Hell no,” he spouted with wide eyes and then added, “But if Heidi Klum walks by, then all bets are off. I will gladly polish the bottom of the rig, if it means I’d get the chance to polish her bottom.”
“I don’t think you have to worry about that,” I laughed. “America might have talent, but you don’t.”
“She can press my buttons any time,” he grinned. “In fact, I take the lit up ‘X’ in her box as tacit approval for me to go into hers.”
“I’ll visit you in prison,” I nodded. “But I’m gonna laugh my ass of when irony bites yours and Bubba thinks your asshole is the ‘X’ marking his spot.”
Then adopting a professorly tone, I eyed him and said, “No means no, Jake. No matter what the voices are saying in your head.”
“Why do you have to shit all over my wet dreams?” he whined. “Isn’t it bad enough you left us floundering in an anchorless circle jerk in Vegas? What if we’d run into Mike Tyson? What then, huh? How were we supposed to handle him and a tiger? That’s an eight man job at the very least.”
I wasn’t about to tell him their circle jerk was permanently anchorless, since I’d run off and gotten engaged, while they hadn’t been running into Mike Tyson.
But I was saved from having to say anything when Flunky grumbled out loud, “No one invited me to go to Vegas.”
Flunky hadn’t endeared himself to anyone on the squad yet – least of all, me – so I turned to face him and narrowed my eyes, as I said, “That’s because it would have taken you five flights to get there. Now shut up and watch the game or else I’m going to designate you as the water boy.”
“Adam Sandler!” Jake yelled out. “That’s what I’ll do in prison! Form a football team and take on the guards in the longest yard.”
He started calling out imaginary plays in the next moment, so thankfully my sanity was saved by Tray walking into the dugout and saying, “Big Daddy’s here, so shut up and sit down.”
Walking over and taking a seat where Flunky was already sitting, he’d narrowly missed becoming a seat cushion by sliding over at the last second. So I was smiling when I looked back at him and asked, “How’s Big Mama doing?”
He’d texted me that he was running late because Amelia had been praying to the porcelain god all morning.
“Better,” he shrugged and then warned, “But if you call her Big Mama within her earshot, I’m gonna kick your ass. She’s not even showing yet and all I hear about is how huge her ass is getting.”
“More cushion for the pushin’” I shrugged, with my mind automatically imagining what Sookie would look like when she was pregnant.
I couldn’t wait to find out.
“So, Sookie looks like she’s got a glow going on.”
“What?” I asked, a little too loud and a little too surprised for it to sound in any way casual.
Pointing in the direction of the stands, I could see her sitting there with her parents, while Tray added, “Her skin is a lot tanner than it was last weekend.”
“Is it?” I asked in a high pitched voiced.
So I did my best to sound like I’d already surpassed puberty, when I added, “I hadn’t noticed.”
Her getting to the ball field.
Her sitting there, with her parents.
I hadn’t noticed a damn thing.
My Sookie sensor must be on the fritz.
Of course it would happen on D-Day.
Karma enjoyed fucking me in the ass.
“Where was it you disappeared to last weekend?” he asked. “The guys said you never made it to Vegas with them. Something about ditching them for some hot chick.”
“Who is she?” Flunky asked.
I knew he wasn’t asking about any random hot chick because his eyes were zeroed in on Sookie.
And a bit of drool was coming from the side of his mouth.
“She is off limits,” I heard myself snarl.
But seeing Tray’s amused and yet challenging expression, I quickly added, “She’s a blue blood and Jason Stackhouse’s sister. You don’t stand a chance with her.”
And he literally wouldn’t have a leg to stand on when I chopped both of them off with a hatchet, if he got anywhere near her.
It wasn’t good for just saving babies from hot locked cars.
“She’s hot,” Flunky declared.
Hearing the leer in his tone, I knew mine was hot – as in, hot under the collar – when I said, “And you’ll get burned if you even think about coming on to her.”
“Just ask Babe the blue-balled Ox,” Tray chuckled and gestured towards Quinn. “He tried to come on to her at the wedding and Eric here was the one to set him straight.”
“He was one grab away from sexually assaulting her,” I argued back, seething all over again at the memory. “You can’t tell me you wouldn’t have done the same thing.”
Tray calling himself Big Daddy was a spot on assessment of his personality. Those he held close to him were like family.
He knew damn good and well he would have defended her too.
“Definitely,” he agreed. But then he added with a smile, “But I can’t say I would’ve been so vigorous in my defense of her. You broke Quinn’s nose.”
“You say that like it’s a bad thing,” I huffed.
Not even a little bit.
“You’re looking pretty tan yourself,” Tray mused, with a calculating stare.
“And?” I asked, looking everywhere but at him. “The sun is pretty big. Takes up the whole sky sometimes. It lights up the entire planet, so you can be anywhere on it and get tan from it.”
My window had shrunken down to minutes.
How many minutes, I wasn’t sure. But I knew I only had literal minutes before I could just come clean and admit I’d been doing very dirty things with Sookie for the past year.
We would be out and I would be free to tell the world she was mine.
But just thinking about it made my eyes automatically move back to where she was sitting. If all went well, she was going to give me a sign.
By holding up her left hand and showing me the ring she no longer had to hide underneath her shirt.
But she was talking to her mom at the moment, so I didn’t know if it was safe for me to say anything to Tray yet.
And all Mr. Observant Mother Fucker had to say at the moment was a disbelieving sounding, “Mmhmm.”
Granted. Not the best formed argument.
But at least I hadn’t made up some excuse about rearranging my socks.
So that was something.
“Mmhmm,” he repeated.
I could lie to him, but I didn’t want to, so instead I did the grown up thing.
I turned to look where Jake was still sitting a few feet away and said, “Billy Madison.”
“Knibb High football rules!” he shouted.
The rest of the game went as expected.
Their pitcher brushed us off of the plate.
Ours returned the favor.
We slid too fast and too hard into their players.
They returned the favor.
All the while I kept looking at over Sookie every chance I got, but she had yet to give me any sign she’d spilled the beans.
And in my anxiety I couldn’t even decide whether or not her father didn’t appear to be in the throes of another heart attack to be a good thing.
By the time the top of the ninth had come about, I was on edge so much I was likely approaching my own heart attack.
We were down by a score of six to four, but Tray had gotten a double to lead off the inning.
One homerun and we were back in this thing.
So I tried to concentrate on that instead of whatever was going on in the stands.
If Sookie hadn’t told her parents about us by now, I was sure she had a good reason.
At least that’s what I kept telling myself.
But with Flunky up at the plate, I was in the batter’s circle waiting for my turn, when my attention was drawn completely to him.
He’d been wearing a sourpuss all afternoon, so I’d already been planning the tortures I would be bestowing upon him when we got back to the firehouse.
But standing up at the plate now, I planned an entirely new kind of torture for him, when he glanced down at the catcher – Jason Stackhouse – and said loud enough for me to hear, “Tell your sister I said thanks for last night and that I’m sorry for not sticking around this morning. Especially after she let me fuck her in the ass and all. She was nice and tight though. You should be proud.”
Everything that happened next was a blur.
All I know was that I blurred past Stackhouse and beat him to the punch.
I knocked Andre to the ground and ended up on top of him first, with my fists taking turns tuning up his face, before my hands settled around his throat, so I could choke the life out of him.
I was doing society a favor.
No jury would ever convict me.
But if they did, I was sure Sookie would bake me a cake with a file in it.
Once again it was Jason Stackhouse who pulled me off of him, with asswipe using what little air he managed to pull into his lungs to snarl, “What the hell?”
“I told you to keep your fucking trap shut!” I roared back and tried to free my arms, so I could hit him again. But Stackhouse’s grip on me only tightened even more, so I used my feet to kick at dickface instead.
“What do you care?” he asked and then added to his future ass whooping by squawking, “She’s a Stackhouse! A blue blood! You said it yourself!”
“She’s my goddamn fiancé!” I yelled back.
Everything got quiet then.
And I do mean everything.
Quiet enough for my brain to catch up to what my mouth had just yelled out for the entire ball park to hear.
I was pretty sure it was Amelia’s voice I heard shouting out, “I knew it!” from the crowd.
But my eyes were closed, avoiding the inevitable fallout for as long as I could, so I couldn’t be certain.
All I knew for sure was that I’d just outed us in a big way and may have inadvertently stolen Sookie’s thunder.
And given her father a heart attack.
For all of my inner talk about not doing just that – of letting Sookie tell them the news in her own time – I’d seriously dropped the ball.
I wouldn’t blame her if she kicked me in mine the next time she saw me.
But it wasn’t a kick to my balls that I felt next. More like the ground rumbling underneath my feet and my eyes snapped open in the next second at what sounded next.
Seeing the giant plume of smoke rising in the distance, from the center of an industrial park, I knew it wasn’t thunder we’d just heard.
That was an explosion.