Taking Hunter’s load from him, I tossed the equipment bags into the back of the truck and shut the hatch, before turning to him and saying, “She had to work late, bud. So I’m going to take you home and hang out until she gets there.”
Sookie texted me just as baseball practice was starting to tell me she was running late. Mr. C had a big case going to trial in a few days and he needed her to stay and do whatever it was she did for him.
Not that I minded spending a little extra time with Hunter, but more than that, I liked the domesticity of it. Being included in her everyday life again was something I hadn’t realized how much I missed, until I had it back.
With the exception of where we slept at night, we’d spent nearly the entire weekend together as a family. There was even some more making out like teenagers involved, after Hunter had gone to sleep, but neither one of us pushed for anything more.
I think both of us were happy to just let things progress naturally.
The first time around, we didn’t have a history or a kid together. Everything was new and exciting and it had been easy to just let ourselves be consumed by one another. And while I was still excited to both see and be with Sookie now, having both a history and a kid together meant we were a little wiser.
A little more cautious.
We weren’t kids anymore and had lost a little of that daredevil ‘we’ll-live-forever’ attitude.
Now we both knew what it was like to crash and burn, so we were both taking it a lot slower than we had the first time, with neither one of us wanting to fuck things up.
I would be willing to wait forever if it meant I would get her back completely.
“So does that mean we’re having pizza for dinner?” Hunter asked hopefully, once we got in the truck.
Instead of asking him how good he was at doing the Electric Slide, I gave him my best Austin Powers Doctor Evil stare – a movie we’d watched just the night before – and quoted him with my answer of, “How about, no. Scott? Okay?”
He’d eaten at least one of everything being offered at the fair on Saturday and when they spent the next day at my house, we’d grilled hot dogs and burgers again.
If we kept feeding him that way, he’d need a triple bypass by the time he turned twelve.
But it was already going on seven o’clock and with Bon Temps being such a small town, there were only so many options.
But knowing Sookie, I was sure she had something healthy in her refrigerator I could cook and said, “I’ll see what mom has at home and we can cook dinner for her.”
It was a very domestic thing to do.
And maybe I could give her a foot massage, after he went to bed that might lead to other things we could do.
Things with Sookie and me had always been easy. We’d always clicked in a way that I hadn’t really appreciated until she was gone. But even with our history – or maybe it was because of our history – and taking things slow, we still got along like a house on fire.
Like Doctor Evil and Mini Me, we were just better together.
Driving back to their house only took a few minutes, but my happy anticipation at seeing Sookie in the very near future disappeared, seeing who was waiting on the front porch right at that very moment.
“Is that Sam?” Hunter asked warily beside me.
Hearing his wariness only added fuel to the raging fire now burning white hot inside of me seeing him there, so I tried to sound calmer than I felt when I answered, “Yeah, bud. It is.”
But seeing him there I had to force myself to stop and think what a Better Man would do, finding his current girlfriend’s ex-fiancé waiting on her front porch, when bringing home the child said Better Man fathered with said girlfriend.
Because the guy sitting in the driver’s seat, staring at said dickhead, was white-knuckling the steering wheel of his new truck to keep himself from giving said dickhead a beat down.
Even thoughts of what Sookie and I had done together in said truck just two days earlier weren’t helping.
If Hunter hadn’t been with me, I doubted I would have given it much thought.
The caveman in me would’ve just gotten out of the truck and kicked his ass.
But we’d evolved as a society.
And evolution had brought about prisons, which is where I would end up, if I gave in to my baser instincts.
Doing twenty to life didn’t fall anywhere into my Better Man Plan.
Telling Hunter to wait in the truck, I got out and shut the door, before taking a few steps towards the house and saying, “You shouldn’t be here, Sam.”
I knew well enough that if Sookie had agreed to talk to him, it wouldn’t be at the house where Hunter could overhear whatever was being said.
And I also liked to think I knew her well enough that she would have given me some warning he might be there if she’d known he was stopping by.
It had angry-stalker-ex written all over it.
“I could say the same thing about you,” he snarled. “Everything between me and Sook was good until you showed up.”
I doubted it.
Sookie wouldn’t have broken up with him if that was true.
But instead of throwing in his face everything she’d told me – that she never loved him like she had loved me – I tried to be the bigger man and only said, “I moved here to be closer to my son. Whatever happened between you and Sookie is between you and Sookie. And, as I understand it, whatever was between the two of you is over now, so like I said. You shouldn’t be here, Sam.”
“And you should be?” he angrily barked, taking a step forward.
Matching his step forward with my own, I felt my fists clenching, but kept them at my sides and said lowly, “It’s none of your business where I should be, but since you’re so interested, I’m here bringing my son home. My son, who’s in the car and doesn’t need to see you acting like a jealous asshole.”
I’d hoped there was a shred of decency left in him that would make him back down for Hunter’s sake, but it seemed my explanation went in one ear and straight out of the other because he didn’t appear to have heard a word I said and only snarled, “So, are you two together now?”
And without waiting for a reply – one I wouldn’t have given him anyway – his voice rose up and yelled out, “Tell me, was she a lying cunt the whole time? Fucking me in between the times she was fucking you, when you were picking up or dropping off your kid? But now that you’re here full-time, she doesn’t need a part-time dick anymore?”
What Better Man?
That man disappeared, with the raging protective asshole in me coming out in the form of an uppercut to Sam’s jaw, dropping him to the ground with me dropping down on top of him. Somewhere in between pummeling his face with my fists, I heard Hunter shouting my name, but I was already so wound up, it took me a few more punches before I could wind down.
Tasting the blood in my mouth, I knew Sam had gotten in a few punches of his own and my hands were throbbing, but that didn’t stop me from picking him up by the front of his stupid fucking flannel shirt – it was spring for fuck’s sake – and shoving him towards his truck, while warning, “Get the fuck out of here. If you come near my family again, you’ll regret it.”
I could already envision the blue tarp his body would be wrapped in, next to the two shovels and a case of beer in the back of Jason’s truck.
“What the fuck ever,” he growled, wiping the blood from his lips with the back of one hand, while opening his truck door with the other. “You can have her stupid fuckin’ cheatin’ ass. You two deserve each other.”
Had he not shut the door and gunned the engine on his way out of there, I’m pretty sure Hunter would be visiting me in prison for the foreseeable future.
But thoughts of Hunter had me turning to face him and seeing the tears in his eyes, I held my arms out towards him, with him running straight into me and clinging to my body, burying his face against my front.
It would seem eight years old wasn’t all that old anymore.
“I’m sorry, buddy,” I soothed, rubbing his back. “I wish you didn’t have to see that.”
Or hear the man who could have been his step-father, calling his mother a cunt.
“You got him pretty good,” he choked out through hitched breaths, trying to calm himself down.
“Did I?” I asked in a teasing tone. Flexing my numbed hands against his back, I added, “I wasn’t paying attention.”
It was hard to see much of anything through the red haze filtering my vision.
“You did,” he nodded against my shirt before pulling away to look up at me and ask, “Why was Sam like that?”
His eyes were red and swollen from crying and all I wanted to do was track Sam down and make him pay for that too, so I took a deep breath and explained, “He’s upset that your mom isn’t going to marry him anymore and he blames me for that.”
Blame I would gladly take.
But rather than admitting that to him because it would only cause more questions – and eight years old wasn’t all that old anymore – I hoped to put him at ease by adding, “But now that he’s gotten it out of his system, I doubt he’ll be back.”
But rather than calming his nerves, Hunter looked even more scared and said, “What if he comes back and you’re not here? What if he breaks into the house or he brings the gun he keeps under the bar? I don’t want to stay here. Can we come stay with you?”
Maybe I would kill him.
Jason would help me hide the body.
I was sure of it.
But seeing Hunter working himself up into a panic, I pulled him back against my body and held him tight, saying, “Nothing is going to happen to you or your mom. I promise. I’ll talk to her when she gets home and we’ll go from there, okay?”
At the very least, I thought she should take out a restraining order on him. It was only a piece of paper, but maybe being served by the sheriff would make Sam see once and for all that Sookie was done with him.
And it could be Defense Exhibit A, if I had to face any charges for murdering him.
Shuffling Hunter towards the door, I pulled out the key she kept hidden under the flower pot and decided I wouldn’t be putting it back there, while taking a good look around. The house was old and had been in her family for generations. It had been updated here and there, but she didn’t have a security system.
It wasn’t something that ever occurred to me they would need until now.
But I hated even having to think that way. I hated that Sam took away Hunter’s comfort at being at home. It was where he should feel the safest.
Now he was rambling off all of the things he would need to pack to take to my house.
As much as I wanted them living with me again, this sure as hell wasn’t the way I wanted it to happen.
If only we’d gotten him that dog, that pussy probably would’ve taken off the moment he’d heard it bark.
After I gave in to Hunter’s request and sat in the bathroom with him while he showered – silently plotting the different ways I could kill Sam the entire time – he sat at the kitchen table doing his homework, while I finally got dinner started. He refused to be in a different room than me, following me whenever I wandered away to take care of something else.
Tomato soup and grilled cheese sandwiches were his favorite comfort food, so it didn’t take long to cook. But I knew he was still bothered by everything when he barely took a bite and instead asked if we could wait for Sookie on the front porch.
Seeing the worry on his face, I couldn’t say no.
Seeing the worry on his face, I could definitely strangle Sam with my bare hands though.
By the time Sookie’s car pulled up the driveway – completely unaware of what had happened because I didn’t want her freaking out at work or on her drive home – she knew something was wrong when Hunter leapt from his seat and nearly tackled her with his hug, saying, “Mommy.”
She had a confused smile on her face until she looked up at me and knowing what she was seeing – because I could still feel the corners of my lip and left eye throbbing – her eyes widened as she asked, “What happened?”
She’d been asking me, but Hunter decided to answer her with a rambled out, “Sam was here when we got home and he was angry and he yelled at dad and they fought and I don’t want to stay here. Can we go stay at dad’s house?”
I didn’t have to see his face to know he was crying again. I could hear it in his voice, but looking down at Hunter, Sookie’s expression was a mixture of empathy and rage.
I really hoped the rage was directed at Sam.
But I had no idea of how she was going to react, hearing I’d physically fought Sam in front of Hunter.
Logically, I’d had a choice not to.
But logic hadn’t fit anywhere into my Raging Asshole Protective Man Plan.
Forcing a calming smile onto her face, she rubbed his back and said, “Why don’t we go inside and talk about it, okay?”
I stayed on the porch, watching her expression with a critical eye to try and guess where I stood in this mess. But it was hard to draw any conclusions when she only looked back at me, giving me nothing more to work with than a soft shake of her head.
Was it from seeing the black eye I could feel forming or from the fight itself?
Walking into the kitchen, with Hunter still clinging to her waist, she sat down at the table and pulled him onto her lap. Wrapping one arm around him, she used the hand of the other to run through his hair, while she softly asked, “Are you okay?”
Nodding, he leaned his head down onto her shoulder and said, “But I don’t want to stay here. He might come back when dad’s not here and he has a gun. He showed me where he keeps it under his bar.”
Twenty to life was sounding better and better, with every word he said. Even numb and swollen, my hands still clenched into fists, hearing how scared he still was.
If Sookie refused to stay at my house at least for the night, I would be refusing to leave theirs.
And if she had anything to say about it, our new relationship would definitely be going through its first test.
Gently rocking him in her arms, she spoke into the top of his head saying, “I don’t think Sam will be dumb enough to come back.”
Muttering under her breath that she couldn’t believe he was dumb enough to show up in the first place, she spoke more clearly when she added, “But if it’ll make you feel better, we’ll spend the night at dad’s house.”
Hunter shot off of her lap, calling over his shoulder, “I’m gonna go pack!”
But neither one of us watched him leave.
Neither one of us willing to break each other’s gaze.
Standing up, she walked towards me and reached out, running a gentle hand over my injured face and shaking her head as she offered, “I’m sorry.”
Reaching up, I grabbed her hand with my own and held it there, asking, “What for?”
“For ever giving that idiot the time of day,” she answered, with a sad smile.
“Oh,” I said, with my own sad smile and added, “Well, if we’re apologizing for idiot moves, then I’m sorry too. If I hadn’t been a fucking tool four years ago, then this never would’ve happened.”
“Don’t start with that again,” she admonished, with a playful eye roll. “My idiot move is much more current than yours and you’ve already apologized for that. Repeatedly. Now it’s my turn.”
Rolling my eyes in return – because really, mine was much worse than hers – I kept that thought to myself and only said, “Speaking of idiots, does that one have a key to your house?”
I’d left the spare sitting on the counter, refusing to put it back, but I had mixed feelings hearing her say, “No, but I suppose he could’ve made a copy from the spare I keep out on the porch.”
“Kept,” I corrected and added, “But I’m having the locks changed tomorrow, while you’re at work and Hunter’s at school.”
And having a security system installed, but that could just be the make-up test to the first test of our new relationship.
In this instance, I was fully embracing the ‘It’s better to ask for forgiveness than for permission’ mantra.
Staring back at me, I couldn’t tell if she was deciding if it was worth the effort of fighting me about it, until she went a step further and put her sometimes mind reading abilities to use by saying, “Maybe I should get a restraining order against Sam. I don’t like that he was just sitting here waiting on me to get home. I would like to think he wouldn’t be an ass if I’d had Hunter with me, but the shiner you’re sporting tells me otherwise.”
Forcing a small smile onto my bruised lips, I said, “At least I didn’t have to be the one to suggest it.”
But seeing her raised brow, I tried to halt whatever rising ire she might be feeling towards me by teasing, “But according to Hunter, I got him pretty good, so I doubt he looks much better than me right now.”
Laughing softly, she only shook her head and smiled, “You could have a burlap sack over your head and you would still look better than just about anyone.”
Liking where her head was at, I pulled her body against mine, so the rest of her would be where I liked her at, and playfully accused, “Miss Stackhouse, are you flirting with me?”
“What flirting?” she laughed, acting like she was trying to pull away from my grasp before giving up and grinning up at me. “Sometimes the truth hurts. Sometimes it doesn’t.”
And at the moment – in this moment – the truth of us didn’t hurt at all.
“I’m ready!” Hunter called out announcing his arrival into the room and being followed by the two large suitcases he pulled along behind him.
An impressive feat, given his back was laden down with a backpack and large duffel bag.
A feat I would remind him of the next time he gave me any grief over helping me schlep around the equipment bags at the ball field.
“What did you pack?” Sookie asked with wide eyes.
Shrugging, he dropped the bags from his shoulders and said, “Everything.”
I was sure she was going to tell him to go back and unpack ‘everything’ and repack enough for one night and the next day.
So I was a bit giddy on the inside when she left the room, saying, “Well then, I guess I’m holding things up. Don’t leave without me!”
While she packed, I quickly cleaned up the mess from our untouched dinner and took the trash out, on the off-chance they would be staying longer than just one night.
But it was hard to not get my hopes up.
And running through the list of objections she could possibly make – if and when her sanity returned – when she walked back into the room, I offered, “Instead of driving two cars back to my place, why don’t you just leave your car here and you can take the Vette to work tomorrow. I’ll drop off Hunter at school in the morning and then I can take care of those other errands while I’m here.”
Smirking, she said, “You had me at ‘you can take the Vette’. Let’s go.”
I wondered how much more of her I would get if I just went ahead and bought a Chevy dealership.
Having all of Sookie beat out getting a job with ESPN any day of the week.
Piling their stuff into the back of the truck, she snickered at my clairvoyance in buying it, seeing all of the baseball equipment already inside of it.
And while I smiled in returned, mine had more to do with fact she’d packed for more than just one night.
It wasn’t the way I expected the night to turn out, but black eye and all, I couldn’t find any complaints.
Our son, however, found one as we made our way back to Shreveport when he grumbled from the backseat, “I’m hungry. We didn’t have dinner.”
Looking over at me, I nodded at Sookie and gave her knowing look, while I said, “I made him tomato soup and grilled cheese, but he didn’t have an appetite.”
Her expression darkened for a brief moment, knowing just why he hadn’t been hungry, but hearing Hunter ask for pizza again, I thought to lighten her mood.
But maybe not Hunter’s because he didn’t find it nearly as funny as we did when my only response had been, “I don’t know. How good is your Flamenco dancing?”
An hour later and with a belly full of pizza, Hunter finally fell asleep.
We both crept out of his room, like we were two cat burglars, and had to stifle our laughter at ourselves on our way out.
But finding ourselves all alone in the hallway, with no kids or angry exes in between us, I didn’t know what to do.
While I’d automatically taken Hunter’s stuff into his bedroom when we got there, I’d left Sookie’s bag by the front door. There was a spare guestroom she could use, but I didn’t want her to.
I wanted her to stay in my room.
But willing to take it one night at a time, I heard myself say, “Sooo…do you want to get ready for bed?”
As evidenced by my ambiguous question, I was also ready to let her take the lead on deciding where she would be sleeping.
But never one to give in so easily, she only smirked at me and asked, “Which bed?”
Knowing she wasn’t blind to what I wanted, I figured there was no use in hiding it and smirked back at her with a challenging look, as I said, “My bed.”
I also figured there was no use in warning her that once she was in it, I would be hard pressed to let her leave it again.
She could just learn that lesson the hard way.
Studying my face, I wasn’t sure what she was looking for, so I thought to ease any worries she might have by saying, “Just to sleep. I promise I will be a complete gentleman.”
Chuckling, she shook her head as she walked by me on her way to the foyer where her bag was, and said, “I can’t make the same promise, so I should probably take the guestroom.”
I was on her before she could take another step and she shrieked with laughter when I scooped her up and threw her over my shoulder, carrying her back to our room.
Because even if she left me tomorrow, it would now always be our room.
And if she left me tomorrow, I would need to move again because of that fact.
Tossing her onto the bed, I was on her split second later and ignored the pain when my lips crashed down onto hers.
Her hands were already pulling at my clothes, but it was impossible to ignore the sleepy voice coming from the doorway, hearing Hunter ask, “Can I sleep in here with you guys?”
Deflating – literally – I closed my eyes and took a deep breath before opening them again. But seeing Sookie’s attempt at keeping her laughter to herself, I glared at her and teasingly accused, “You just had to shriek.”
“You just had to go Fred Flintstone on me,” she whisper argued. “All you had to do was leave a trail of your clothes leading to the bedroom and I would’ve Hansel and Gretel’d those bitches right on in here.”
“You never did like it when I left my clothes lying around,” I smiled.
“Uh huh,” she smiled with another eye roll. “That’s why I would’ve come in here. But you never complained about me being vocal before.”
I used to love all of the sounds I could get her to make.
And I really wanted to see if I could get her to make them again.
But our dancing monkey’s presence would keep us from dancing in between the sheets.
A fact he reiterated by asking, “Can I?” not seeming to find the fact I was on top of his mother in our bed the least bit odd.
Eight years old definitely wasn’t as old as I’d made it out to be.
Rolling off of her, we both went our separate ways to get changed and coming back into the room, we found Hunter lying squarely in the middle of the bed.
It made me want to kill Sam for an entirely new reason.
Climbing in on either side of him, he was already falling back to sleep by the time our lips met in the middle above him, and lying down – even in spite of being cock blocked – I couldn’t wipe the smile from my face.
Because even if it was only for one night – for this one night – I had my family back.