He’s kissing me.
He’s KISSING me.
He’s kissing ME.
STOP KISSING HIM BACK SOOKIE!
Pulling back – and putting my tongue back where it belonged – I forced my eyes to uncross and glanced back down the row to see if Debbie ‘You ain’t got no ring and I ain’t got no good grammar’ Pelt was still watching.
“She’s gone,” I informed him in an embarrassingly affected voice.
Sounding somewhat affected himself, he asked, “What?”
“Who, Captain Costello,” I chuckled, with my eyes looking everywhere but at him.
And before we could launch into the entire ‘Who’s on First’ routine, I gestured towards where she’d been watching us right before he kissed me and added, “Debbie Pelt. She must have gotten the hint when you – you know – kissed me because she’s gone.”
I wasn’t upset he’d kissed me.
I was something, but upset wasn’t it.
But it didn’t matter because it was sort of my fault for insinuating we were one big family when I told her to back the hell off.
He’d only been playing along.
Still holding Jason in my arms, he was amusing himself by slapping whatever was in reach – with my face and boobs being his primary targets – so I high-fived him and jokingly said, “Good team effort everyone. Go us. Now everyone hit the showers.”
God knows I could use a cold one.
But I didn’t want things to get awkward, so I acted like being kissed to within an inch of my overly taxed panty shield – all for the benefit of shooing away Miss Nutty Naked Nutcake – was no big deal.
And it wasn’t.
Which I tried to show him – that it wasn’t – when I turned to him and asked with a level of detachment I was quite frankly surprised by, “Do you think it’s a coincidence, running into her here like this?”
Thinking about the who’s and why’s instead of the what’s – as in what just happened – would be the only way for me to get past what just happened. And I’d worked a couple of stalking cases in my time in the DA’s office.
Enough that I had a hard time believing in coincidences, so I made a mental note to have John Flood check into her background first thing in the morning, regardless of whatever his answer turned out to be.
If her baser instincts had her emulating Sharon Stone’s Basic Instinct when it came to him, then she might not be so harmless. But having only just learned his name – thanks to her – I didn’t have enough information to make a case.
Even if I did now have enough information to be able to pick his kiss out of a lineup.
With my hands tied behind my back.
“Maybe?” he eventually replied, snapping me back to the here and now, from the dark and yet softly lit corners of my mind where I’d been pleasantly restrained by silk scarves.
Once again blinking the porn from my eyes, he took it to mean something else – because it was Sunday, so God was watching over everyone, no matter how fifty shades of fucked up they might be – and expanded on his one word answer by adding, “I mean it’s been like three years since I last saw her. When I met her I was in Germany at the time. She’d said she was just there visiting her friend whose father was stationed there. And after…everything, one of the investigators told me she was being shipped home, but I hadn’t paid much attention to where since I was deploying to the desert a week later. She may have been from this area, but I can’t say for sure. I’ve done what I could to try and block the trauma from my mind.”
“And by everything, you mean finding her spread out on your bed waiting for you to draw her like one of your French girls, Jack?” I laughed out, more so at the look on his face with my reminder of how he’d found her than the likelihood he wouldn’t get the Titanic reference.
That was normal, right?
Not awkward at all.
Narrowing his eyes, he took a step forward until we were chest to chest – or more like boobs to rib cage, given the height difference – and stared down at me, reminding me of the other reminder I’d inadvertently given him by saying in a low accusing tone, “Sookie?”
“Yes?” I blinked up at him innocently, wondering when personal boundaries had gone the way of the Dodo bird.
Maybe Stan the Stegosaurus ate them?
A working theory that became more likely, hearing the rumble sounding from his chest and going straight down my baby chute, along with the words, “How in the fuck was I ever supposed to guess your name is Sookie?”
“Ha!” I barked out, more so at his irritation than the not so irritating tickle in my twat.
And I admittedly sounded every bit the schoolyard prissy pants I could be, when I taunted, “You weren’t. That’s why I was gonna win. Which. I. Did.”
“No you didn’t,” he argued back, joining me in the invisible playground sandpit I’d temporarily setup camp in. “You didn’t win because you didn’t guess my name.”
“Take it up with your fiancé,” I waved him off, before putting Jason back into his stroller.
Then turning back to face him, I challenged, “And the next time you enter into a tournament of this kind, I suggest you allow your attorney to look over your invisible contract. If you had, you would’ve been informed of the fine print, which clearly states – and I quote – ‘If at any time one party becomes aware of the other party’s identity through outside forces, to include instances of: a) being SWATTED; b) having the Publisher’s Clearing House Prize Patrol arrive on your doorstep with giant check in hand; or c) being ambushed by former fiancés at farmer’s markets, then the party first made aware of the other’s name shall be declared the winner.”
Then giving him my ‘You can’t argue with my logic’ smile I usually reserved for jurors, I ended with, “It’s in the Neener-Neener Clause, Subsection Crybaby.”
Staring back at me, I could tell he couldn’t decide whether he wanted to laugh or argue some more, so – being the gracious winner that I was – I stuck my tongue out at him and started pushing the stroller down the row again.
We hadn’t gotten very far when he was back to walking beside us.
But I’d been unaware he’d dragged all of the awkward along with him, until he said, “About that kiss. I…”
“No!” I semi-shrieked, interrupting him before he could apologize.
Admittedly, I’d enjoyed being the co-star in his impromptu happy family performance and I didn’t want to hear him say he was sorry for doing it.
I usually had thicker skin and no fucks to give when it came to what anyone thought of me personally – professionally was a different story, which was yet another undisclosed flaw of mine – but I knew it would sting hearing anything like that from him.
Because rational, I was not always.
So I forced some calm into my voice and my inner Yoda back into his box, when I added, “It’s okay. I get it. I mean, I was the one that led her to believe our uh…association was – you know – familiar. I implied we were one big happy family. And Jason is just as blond and blue-eyed as the both of us, so she could’ve assumed he was yours. So I get why you kissed me when she turned back around. No harm, no foul.”
Unless you checked my panty shield.
It was likely both harmed and foul.
I could’ve gone on, of course, and likened the Kiss of Necessity to his morning wood. That it was just one of those things that happened in life.
In my extremely turned on and just as dissatisfied life.
So I sent a silent prayer of thanks to Pastor Hammer Pants I was able to stop my word vomit before I ended up talking about the hammer in his pants.
“Right,” he eventually agreed.
I ignored the fact he didn’t sound very agreeable and instead chose to adhere to the tacit accord we’d reached.
The one where the Kiss of Necessity was just that.
And I somehow managed to keep my hands firmly on the stroller instead of Jedi waving them in front of him, even while I silently acknowledged, ‘This is not the boyfriend you are looking for’.
Not only was he employed by me – which was a whole other level of lawsuits if something happened between us and it went south, like everything in my life seemed to – but he was really good, both with and for Jason.
He’d taken to Captain Kissy Face like bees to honey and the last thing I needed to do was to let my libido take over.
Trying to get Eric’s stinger lodged in my honey pot would only result in us getting stung in the end, when he realized just how fucked up I was and left us both behind.
At least if I maintained some sort of decorum where I was mostly his employer – even one open to spontaneous nighttime couch cuddles initiated by him – then there would be enough distance between us that if and when he learned of my major faults, he could hopefully see them with a sense of detachment.
It’s what I did with Bill, so I didn’t think it was too farfetched.
I overlooked a lot of Bill’s faults because – a product of the Good Old Boys Asshole Network he may be – he was still a brilliant attorney. The level of cunning he was capable of – his ability to see what wasn’t being said and shine a light on it, if not draw it out of others against their will – was on par with The Mentalist’s Patrick Jane.
We would all be in for a world of hurt if he ever crossed sides and turned into Red John.
So I would do what I could to keep a professional distance from Eric – paltry though it might be at times – and a lid on my honey pot for everyone’s sake.
It was for the best.
The rest of the afternoon was an exercise in torture.
Having her at my side did nothing to close the huge gap that had grown in between us.
And I only had myself to blame.
I knew I shouldn’t have kissed her. In spite of the obvious chemistry between us, I knew there was something holding her back.
Hell, she was technically my boss and we’d only known each other for four days – barely – so even that was a good enough reason for her to close up after I’d crossed the invisible line, regardless of whatever else she might be thinking.
My mother would be so disappointed in me.
Frankly, I was too.
And I didn’t know whether I should feel grateful or disappointed she’d automatically assumed I’d kissed her because of Debbie Pelt. If she’d been watching us, I’d had no clue.
I’d only had eyes for her.
Eyes I tried my best to keep from staring at her or glancing her way too many times, so she wouldn’t feel even more uncomfortable in my presence. While she’d had the grace to joke around, like everything was normal between us, I knew better.
The tension floating in the air around us was not normal.
But I had a feeling telling her the truth about why I kissed her would have only done more harm than good.
No matter how good that kiss had actually been.
Better than good, it was great.
Admittedly, I wanted to do it again.
Not that I could admit that to her.
We’d kept to mostly safe topics of discussion when the silence had become more than one of us could stand, so when we eventually made our way back to the house and she went to put the baby down for a nap, I didn’t think I would see her again until she was forced to be in my presence.
Like if there was a zombie horde at the front door.
Anything less and I suspected I would only know she was around by the pile of shoes growing in the foyer.
So I was surprised when she joined me in the kitchen a little while later. I’d told her I would be getting dinner started before she’d gone upstairs with the baby.
Seeing her taking a seat at the table in my peripheral, I decided now was a good time to do a little damage control.
And what better way than to make her laugh?
At me or at my corny joke – Pam didn’t call me a doofus for nothing – didn’t really matter.
So I held the legs of the raw chicken in my hands and made it moonwalk across the counter, asking, “What do you call this?”
Turning to face her slightly raised brow, I answered, “Poultry in motion.”
Pursing her lips to fight off her want to smile, she tipped her head in my direction and asked, “Why do cows have hooves?”
“Because they lack toes,” she replied after a pause.
Feeling the tension beginning to dissipate, I latched on with both metaphorical hands and said, “If you’re cold, you should go stand in a corner. They’re always ninety degrees.”
“What time did the man go to the dentist?” she asked with a wider smiler and automatically replied, “Tooth hurt-y.”
“Did you hear about the guy who invented Lifesavers?” I grinned. “They say he made a mint.”
Fighting off a bout of giggles now, she asked, “Why can’t you hear a pterodactyl use the bathroom? Because the ‘p’ is silent.”
“Why do chicken coops only have two doors?” I asked. Then using the chicken still in my hands, I held it up as though it was replying, when I said, “Because if they had four, they’d be chicken sedans.”
“A ham sandwich walks into a bar. The bartender says, ‘We don’t serve food here.’”
“As an ADA, you should appreciate this one,” I offered knowingly. “Two peanuts were walking down the street. One was a salted.”
“Oh yeah?” she asked and picked up the imaginary gauntlet I’d thrown down by saying, “A woman is on trial for beating her husband to death with his guitar collection. The judge asks, ‘First offender?’ and she replies, ‘No. First a Gibson, then a Fender.’”
“I could do this all night,” I warned, with a small smile.
And I would. Happily, if only to get things between us back to normal.
But instead of saying that, I only admitted, “I’m pretty sure I’ve heard every corny joke there is. There can be a lot of downtime on deployments.”
There could also be a lot of down times during deployments and corny jokes were one way of dealing with them.
“Are you insinuating you can out corny joke me?” she asked, with that missing glint back in her eyes.
Which was what made me reply, “No. I am saying I can out corny joke you.”
But recalling the Neener-Neener Clause, Subsection Crybaby, I quickly added, “Draw up the contract and I’ll have my attorney look it over.”
“That would probably be a conflict of interest,” she quietly offered in a way that said more than she was actually saying.
Seasoning the chicken by that point, I’d been facing the counter when she’d said it, so she couldn’t see my expression.
Nor could I see hers.
But I could read between the lines.
Was that what was holding her back?
Obviously, I could see her point. I’d made the same one to myself, although in a completely different context.
Yes, technically she was my employer. But the same could be said of her relationship with Pam and they clearly had a connection that ran deeper.
So why couldn’t ours?
But having already fucked up that day, I was hesitant to put my foot in it yet again.
So I remained facing the counter, while I gently tiptoed into the shallow end by asking, “Would it be though? Can’t one person be more than one thing to someone else?”
She’d alluded to it herself when she’d told Debbie we were many things to one another.
I know I hadn’t been reading into her words. They probably played some part in my decision to kiss her.
“Not if there’s an inequitable balance of power,” she hesitantly replied.
“Power is subjective,” I countered. “If the intent and actions between those affected are on a level playing field, then everyone has an equal chance of succeeding.”
“So your philosophy is everyone gets a trophy?” she chuckled, without much humor.
“Hardly,” I shot back, loosening my grip on the chicken when I felt it bulging in my hands.
Then taking a deep breath, while willing away my want to really let loose with how I felt, I eventually offered, “Perception is what counts.”
And hoping I wasn’t unwittingly doing myself more harm than good, I asked, “How do you perceive Pam? When you think of her, is your first thought friend or employee?”
I’d heard enough from Pam to know that she thought of her as a friend first, but I couldn’t honestly say Sookie would feel the same.
“Friend,” she eventually admitted in a small voice that turned into a soft chuckle when she added, “Honestly, it feels like I work for her most of the time. Your sister is a force of nature to be reckoned with.”
“I’m well aware,” I smiled in return, finally turning around to face her.
But whatever she saw on my face had her straightening up, with her Sookie Stackhouse Assistant District Attorney façade taking over her features, as she said in a commanding tone, “Enough talking in circles. I will admit, I’m attracted to you. Too much, actually and I’m not blind to the chemistry we have. But in addition to being my friend’s brother, you’re also my employee. And while I would hate to lose Pam as my assistant, I could manage without her if she were to up and quit. You, on the other hand, would be harder to replace and it has nothing to do with the unfair level of hotness you’ve achieved. Jason – my son – adores you. I’ve obviously failed him as a mother – yet again – to not recognize that he was starving – yet AGAIN – for a male role model in his life. But you’re it now, so I will gracefully bow out and let him have you because he has to come first.”
Biting her lower lip, as if she’d said more than she’d meant to, she released it to add in an almost whispered voice, “So please, just stick around for his sake and I promise, I will keep my hands, mouth, and everything else to myself.”
Standing stock still, I was too shocked to say anything at first.
Hearing her lay everything out in one fell swoop was unexpected, but welcome.
Because her complete candor was clarifying.
Seeing she was getting ready to bolt from the kitchen, I stopped her by saying everything I needed to, starting with, “One. I didn’t kiss you because of Debbie Pelt. I kissed you because I couldn’t not kiss you in that moment. I’m sorry if that made you uncomfortable, but there it is.”
Feeling emboldened by her shocked expression, I plowed on with, “Two. What makes you think I can’t distinguish between my role as Jason’s caregiver and what I want to be with you? Because I actually did read the contract Pam emailed me and nowhere in it did it specify workplace romances were forbidden. I’m also not petty enough that if things didn’t work out the way I want them to with you that I would leave either you or him hanging. If I’m adult enough to want to do adult things with you, then I’m adult enough to stick around if it ended.”
Yeah I said it.
“And three,” I added in a softer tone, while taking a step closer to reach out and gently cup her face. “Like beauty, power is in the eye of the beholder. I can separate our roles to one another based on the setting and situation. And I recognize that we barely know each other, but I also recognize there’s something more there. I’m not asking for your hand in marriage. I’m asking you to leave the door open and give it a chance to grow.”
Staring back at me, I could see her mind working a mile a minute.
Seeing the small smile turning up the corners of her lips, I started to get my hopes up, until she batted my hand away and said disgustedly, “Did you just touch my face with raw chicken hands?”
“Salmonella!” she called out on her way to the kitchen sink, where she proceeded to scrub her face with dish soap, with the errant accusations of, “You gave me salmonella face,” echoing out of the sink.
Handing her a paper towel when she was done, I wryly asked, “Do you feel better now?”
“Do you?” she asked, looking mostly amused and somewhat damp. “You go around changing every lock in the joint and then tell me to leave the door open. Kinda flip floppy in my opinion.”
“Well, you haven’t kicked me out,” I smiled in return. “It must be due to the unfair level of hotness I’ve achieved.”
“Must be,” she grumbled, either from the reminder or the fact she’d said it out loud.
It didn’t matter to me though.
She’d said it.
“Aren’t you going to wash your hands?” she asked, when all I did was stare down at her.
Holding them up inches from her face, I teased, “Depends.”
“On what?” she asked, trying and failing to sound innocently unaware.
But waggling my fingers closer to her face made her take a step back and look at me with a raised brow.
And a wide smile stretched across mine moments later, when her only reply was to walk over and open the back door, before silently making her way from the kitchen and into other parts of the house.