Hunter was in the middle of doing his hundredth handstand in the shallow end of the pool when Sookie rounded the corner of the house and into the backyard.
“Hey there. You finally made it,” I smiled at her from my watchman’s post at the grill.
Cook. Fire. Argh argh argh.
But when she smiled back at me and dropped her bag onto a chaise lounge before peeling off her tank top, I was just lucky I could contain the rest of my inner caveman dialogue because he was shouting, “Yabba dabba do!”
Yabba. Dabba. Do. Me.
I’d been wrong.
So. Very. Wrong.
I didn’t remember just how sexy she was or how tiny her bikinis were.
It was one of only a handful of times I was glad to be wrong.
She took a look around the yard before grabbing two beers from the cooler and walked up to me, handing one over and joking, “I’m moving in.”
“We’ll go rent a truck when we’re done eating,” I smiled back.
I wasn’t joking.
But it wasn’t until the words were out of my mouth that I realized just how closely our conversation mimicked another one we’d had. A long time ago. Another lifetime ago. I hadn’t been joking on that first night we’d met either and that led to us being together for six years.
If by some miracle she stayed, I would not be fucking up again.
Sookie only smirked in my direction and ignored my offer to completely uproot them from their lives to plant them firmly in the middle of mine by changing the subject and asking, “So, do you have a feel for the neighborhood yet?”
It was only the smell of about to be burnt hotdogs that got me to look away from her as I replied, “Not really.”
I’d only moved in a few days before and had been busy unpacking and getting the house in order, so I added, “I haven’t even seen any of my neighbors yet.”
The words were barely out of my mouth when both of our heads turned at the sound of someone calling out, “Knock knock!”
A redhead – unnaturally red – peeked from around the side of the house and her eyes lit up with recognition when she spotted me. Walking forward, her steps faltered a bit when those same eyes noticed Sookie standing next to me, but she kept going and smiled saying, “I’m Sophie, your new neighbor. I just thought I’d stop by and introduce myself.”
She was carrying a bottle of wine and two glasses, one of which hadn’t been meant for Sookie if I could read her expression right. And one Sookie must have caught onto as well because I got a glimpse of Evil Sookie just as she turned back towards the pool and shouted, “Hunter! Daddy’s done grilling, so get out of the pool and come meet the new neighbor!”
Not his – as in my – new neighbor, but the new neighbor.
And the last time Hunter had called me ‘Daddy’ was when he was five, but he unwittingly played right into her hand by whining, “But mom…”
Her Evil Sookie grin got just a little bit bigger hearing him and I was completely willing to play Sookie’s game, so I threw my arm over her shoulder and smiled back at the new neighbor and said, “It’s nice to meet you. I’m Eric and this,” I hugged her tighter against my body, “Is Sookie.” Jutting my chin towards our whiny kid, I added, “And that’s our son, Hunter.”
None of it was a lie, but I knew exactly what she would infer.
And I was okay with that.
“Oh,” she smiled and tried to hide her disappointment. “I didn’t realize.” And when I didn’t hide my confusion, she added, “I was under the impression you were living here alone.”
“That’s okay,” Sookie smiled and wrapped her arm around my back to settle her hand on my hip.
Low on my hip.
Her tone even sounded believably unbitchy when she added, “I’m sure we can dig out another wine glass.”
Three heads turned that time to see a brunette I’d never seen before rounding the corner into the backyard and while I seriously considered putting a lock on the gate, she stopped seeing all three us of standing there and said, “Oh.”
“Felicia?” Sophie asked, sounding a tad malicious. Her voice dripped with more than a little disdain when she added, “Coming by to meet our new neighbors?”
The Felicia woman couldn’t quite hide her contempt either when her once casual stroll turned into a march as she stomped forward and narrowed her eyes at Sophie saying, “And I see you must have had the same idea since you’re already here.”
Sookie and I were just spectators to their whatever-they-were-doing, but she leaned towards me and whispered, “Did I get your address wrong? I didn’t realize you moved onto Wisteria Lane.” And she must have eyed the basket of muffins Felicia was carrying because she whisper chuckled, “I think she wants you to go muff diving.”
Hunter came up to us by then. And because he was an eight year old boy who apparently didn’t know what a towel was for, he stood right in the middle of all of us and shook himself dry, splattering water onto everyone.
Two of the four jumped backwards, but Sookie only laughed and said, “You’ll have to excuse our son. He’s part collie.”
“Nah,” Hunter laughed. “Since Dad’s grandparents were Scandinavian, I’m part Great Dane.”
“And the other part smart-ass,” I smiled and squeezed Sookie’s shoulder adding, “He must get that from you.” But looking up and seeing our politely-hostile-towards-one-another guests, I said, “Hunter, say hello to the new neighbors.”
The, not my.
“Hello,” he waved and then dove for the platter beside the grill, calling out gleefully, “Hotdogs!”
Putting on her hostess persona, Sookie pulled away slightly and asked, “Would you two care to join us?” And looking down at Sophie’s hands, she grinned adding, “I’m sure we can dig out a fourth wine glass.”
I got the feeling both of them would rather have their acrylic fingernails pulled off one by one than stay, so I wasn’t surprised when they both gave us fake smiles and Sophie spoke up first with, “No. No, I just wanted to drop this off and say hello. I have…somewhere else I need to be.”
“Me too,” Felicia interjected, quickly jumping onto to Sophie’s bandwagon.
And taking the time to swallow his hotdog in three bites – with me thinking maybe I should increase the amount of his child support with the way he could eat – he looked over at the sound of her voice asking, “Are those muffins?”
“Oh,” she exclaimed and looked down at the basket still in her hand, seeming surprised she was carrying it at all. “Yes.” And handing it over to Sookie, she added, “Here, these are for you. And you can just keep the basket.”
“Thanks!” Sookie smiled and let her eyes dart to me before her grin got even wider when she added, “I’m sure Eric will just dive right into these after dinner. He loves muffins.”
I had a difficult time not laughing out loud at our in-joke, but I managed to keep it contained and gave her a bit of her own medicine by saying, “I love diving into your muffins.”
Also not a lie.
And she could infer whatever she wanted.
But it was apparent the new neighbors caught my drift because their eyes narrowed at Sookie before they turned to narrow on each other and they called out a quick goodbye and nice-to-meet-you’s before walking back towards the way they came.
And we could hear their bickering as soon as they rounded the side of the house.
Hunter had just gulped his second hotdog down and was going for thirds when he snickered, “Jeez Dad. You’re like a tramp magnet.”
Ah yes…eight years old was a lot older than I remembered.
“Watch it,” Sookie laughed and playfully swatted the back of his head. “You do realize your own mother must have been sucked into your father’s magnetism at some point in order for you to be here, don’t you?”
His eyes squeezed shut like he’d sucked on a lemon – something we’d purposely given him when he was a baby and laughed our asses off watching his reaction – before opening them again and asking, “Are you still getting sucked in?” With that his eyes fell to her hand still wrapped around my waist as he added, “Because they’ve been gone for five whole minutes and you still look like you’re super-glued to him.”
And speaking the rest of my thought out loud, I thought I should inform her in case she wasn’t aware, “Eight years old is a lot older than I remembered it being.”
“You’re not kidding,” she muttered and let go of me like her skin was burning, which it might actually be doing considering how red she was.
And it had nothing to do with the sun.
But I was dying to hear what her answer would be about still being sucked in by me – and desperately trying to ignore how well she used to actually suck different parts of me into different parts of her – so of course she changed the subject by grinning and saying, “So…the new neighbors seem…nice.”
“Uh huh,” I chuckled. “And now that they’re gone – hopefully for good – they seem even nicer.”
“I’m sorry,” she laughed. “I couldn’t resist messing with their heads once I got the bitch-glare from the redhead.”
“Don’t be sorry,” I replied. “I should be thanking you.” And catching her eye, I added, “And moving you in. Maybe then they’ll stay away.”
That would be last on the list of reasons on why I would want them to move in, but her eyes held mine for an all too brief moment before looking away as she referred to either their display or ours by laughing out, “Ahh…dinner and a show. It’s been a while since I’ve had the pleasure.”
And because I was a glutton, I couldn’t stop myself from asking, “Oh? Does Sam not take you out much?”
Sookie had once told me – aside from just being with me – one of the best things about my career was all of the traveling we got to do. Playing in a hundred and sixty-two games from April to September could be grueling, but we always managed to find the time to see as much of every city we were in while we were there. And we went back to the ones we liked the most to see what we didn’t have time for the first time during the off season. And once we’d seen everything in those cities, our off season travels took us to other places we’d always wanted to see.
Once upon a time she’d told me her passport was her favorite scrapbook.
Once upon a time before I’d fucked everything up.
Before Sookie could answer, Hunter decided to do it for her and said, “He’s always working.”
“Really?” I asked. “Is his business that…busy?”
Bon Temps wasn’t all that big and while I’d never had the (dis?) pleasure of dropping by, I didn’t imagine it was the place to be in all of Renard Parish.
“It can be,” she shrugged. “Sam just feels like he should be there when it’s open for business.”
“How many days are they open?” I asked, but I already had a feeling of what her answer would be seeing her lips turn into a grimace.
I couldn’t figure out whether I should be happy about the fact they didn’t seem to spend much time together or sad seeing the frown she was trying to hide.
Sad won out.
Because Sad Sookie was my least favorite of her personas.
Trying to find some sort of bright side, I offered, “Well then I guess that means he’s dedicated.”
That was good, right?
A hard worker. Driven. Ambitious.
“Yep,” Sookie responded and before filling her mouth with food, she added a little bitterly, “To his bar.”
There it went again.
The scent of strife.
And as much as I wanted to fan the flames and maybe pour a tanker full of gasoline on top of it, the last thing I wanted was to make her any more miserable by adding my two cents per gallon.
So I shoved a hotdog into my mouth, hoping every miserable thing I had to say about Sam and his dickish ways would be swallowed down along with it.
And glancing up at the house, while not made of glass, I knew I still shouldn’t throw stones.
My misdeed was a thousand times worse than his.
When Sookie was done chewing, she seemed to slough off whatever was on her mind and asked, “So, have you figured out what you’re going to do now that you’re not playing ball?”
And perhaps it was due to what I now considered her aversion to bar ownership that made me leave out that no-longer-an option when I answered, “I’m not really sure, but I was thinking of maybe investing in a car dealership.” A sea of GM’s shiniest flashed through my mind, but I shook those images away and admitted, “But with this economy I’m not so sure that’s a good idea right now.”
Shreveport Louisiana wasn’t Detroit, but the job market wasn’t all that steady either, so I didn’t want to buy into a business that could easily go into the red.
I liked red, on Sookie and on my corvette, but not in my ledger.
“I have time to figure it out though,” I added. “I was thinking of trying my hand at broadcasting too.”
“That would be so cool!” Hunter exclaimed, with half of his fourth hotdog falling out of his mouth. Completely unfazed, he chewed one more time and added, “Could we go on the field and meet the players?”
“I don’t know,” I glared, saying, “I’m not sure I want them to see how my kid eats a hotdog.”
Not when I didn’t want to see it.
“I’ll have a pretzel!” he bargained, with parts of the bun still sticking out of his lips as he grinned back at me.
Sookie reached over and popped him to get him to straighten up, so I looked at her with a serious expression and said, “I told you the hospital gave us the wrong kid to take home.”
“I know,” she sighed, playing along. “But the other one was so ugly and he was so cute. I just couldn’t resist.”
Shrugging my shoulders, we both ignored Hunter’s now worried expression and said, “I guess it’s too late now.”
Her eyes darted to Hunter’s face and I had a hard time keeping the grin off of mine when she said, “I wonder what he’s like. I bet he does his homework without being badgered into it.”
“He probably chews with his mouth closed and doesn’t speak when it’s full of food,” I added.
“Maybe it was a girl?” she asked hopefully.
I pretended to ponder for a moment and said, “Maybe…I could’ve been mixed up seeing the umbilical cord.”
Sookie couldn’t stop herself from laughing out, “With you as the father, I can see how you could’ve been confused.”
And because eight years was a lot older than I remembered, Hunter caught on to what she was talking about and exclaimed, “Eewww…stop talking about Dad’s junk!”
Seeing his grossed out expression, she needled him some more by saying, “But with Dad’s, there’s a lot to talk about.”
We both laughed when that seemed to be all he needed to hear to lose whatever was left of his mammoth appetite because he shot out of his seat and ran off towards the pool yelling, “AAAHHHH! MY EARS ARE BLEEDING!”
“Good times,” I chuckled, leaning back in my seat and taking a long pull from my beer, while we watched him cannonball into the pool.
“Yeah,” she agreed, but it was her quixotic tone that made me look over at her.
I shouldn’t have though.
Because now I wanted to kiss her again.
But that seemed to be a theme with me lately.
And whether or not she was uncomfortable with my stare, I couldn’t tell. But all she did was smile and say, “It’s a lot more fun to tag-team-terrorize him.”
And because I was trying to remind myself that Sookie wasn’t available for me to terrorize parts of her with parts of me, I asked, “Does Sam not get into the spirit of giving him a hard time?”
As far as I was concerned, it was one of the best things about being a parent.
A lifetime captive target.
“Uhh…” she began and stopped before saying, “Not really? I mean they get along just fine, but I think maybe Sam doesn’t want to rub him the wrong way.”
More importantly, did he rub her the wrong way?
Because I remembered exactly how she liked to be rubbed.
Before I could inadvertently ask my completely inappropriate and none-of-my-business question, she added, “But his personality is different too, so it probably would never occur to him to insinuate to a child of his own that they weren’t really their own and find so much enjoyment watching them squirm.”
“Ah,” I nodded and took another swig of my beer. Smiling back at her, I admitted, “Well then I don’t know which one of us would be the better parent between him and me because I got a lot of enjoyment seeing Hunter’s ‘Oh shit’ face form.”
“You’re a great parent,” she immediately offered.
And if Hunter hadn’t already forced me to think about it the day before I was sure I would’ve realized right then and there that I was still in love with Sookie. I’d always known I’d never stopped loving her, but I’d also never admitted to myself that I was still in love with her.
Did I pick up orange juice when I went shopping for groceries?
I knew I had vodka so if I’d remembered the juice, then I could make myself a screwdriver to go along with how screwed I was.
But since I wasn’t about to go there – and the beer wasn’t giving me the buzz required to go there – I only looked back at her and said, “You are the great parent Sookie. I know I haven’t said it enough, but you’ve done a great job with him. Thank you.”
Her eyes softened towards me and I could’ve fooled myself into believing they may have filled with a few tears before she forced herself to chuckle and said, “Yeah. I did a great job at teaching him table manners.”
“And his tramp radar is well calibrated too,” I nodded with a smile.
“He’ll need it,” she snickered. “The poor thing looks just like you.”
Was it too soon to have the talk with him?
Or shove him into a body-sized condom?
I figured we probably didn’t want his ears to bleed twice in one day, so I left that discussion for another day and asked, “Ready to get into the pool?”
“I thought you’d never ask,” she grinned, getting up from the table.
And mine couldn’t be wiped from my face watching her peel off her shorts.
Not when I saw the backside of her bikini bottoms going with them.
“Quit staring at my ass, Eric,” she chided without needing to turn around to know where my eyes were glued.
“Quit showing it to me and I will.”
“Nothing you haven’t seen before anyways,” she smiled, but the blush still bloomed on her skin.
And even if I hadn’t seen all of it before, with how skimpy her choice in swimwear was I would’ve been able to tell it covered her entire body.
But that didn’t mean I still didn’t want to see her entire body.
I was already wearing my swim trunks, so all I had to do was take off my t-shirt to get into the pool.
And apparently it was all I needed to do to get Sookie’s undivided attention, considering she was now the one with sticky eyes.
Stuck to my bare chest.
And because she was so kind as to point out my obvious leering, I didn’t hesitate to return the favor by reminding her in a playfully mocking tone, “Nothing you haven’t seen before, so why are you staring?”
My heart skipped a beat – and we won’t mention what my dick was doing – when she strode towards me and reached out, tracing over my bicep and argued, “I haven’t seen this before.”
“Oh, yeah. I guess you haven’t,” I admitted.
I’d had Hunter’s name tattooed in an all-black Old English font onto my upper arm during a drunken bender right after they’d left, thinking it was one way I could always have him with me.
The tattoo had absolutely nothing to do with what I regretted from that ordeal.
But at least I hadn’t been so drunk that I’d gotten Sookie’s name inked onto my skin too. Not that I would regret it even now, but I would feel an assload of awkward if she’d seen it.
“When did you have it done?” she asked.
The feel of her fingertip softly tracing over it could be felt all across my body and I felt the goose bumps pop up onto my flesh despite the warm temperature as I replied, “Uh…a day or so after.”
That was as far as I could go. As much as I could force myself to say, but when her eyes met mine I could tell she didn’t need for me to say the words out loud.
She knew exactly when I was talking about.
And maybe she couldn’t force herself to finish my thought either because all she did was smile and say, “I like it. It suits you.”
So did she.
And because I wasn’t going to force that knowledge on her or the angst on myself, I remained silent and let the view of the sway of her ass walking towards the pool temporarily wipe my sorrows away.
It was impossible to feel sad with that kind of view.
I set up the net across the pool, so we could play volleyball and I’m not ashamed to say I handed them their ass when all was said and done in spite of it being two against one.
I was born competitive and spent my entire life being competitive. They knew this and it should have been expected, so their defeat should not have come as a surprise.
Just like their whining over losing wasn’t a surprise to me.
Nor should Sookie have been surprised when our following game of Marco Polo ended with me copping a feel of her ass when I finally caught her.
It too should have been expected.
But what I didn’t expect was the feeling I got from her later on that night. After Hunter’s long day, he passed out before his head hit his pillow.
I had to carry him from the couch and put him into his bed, but I expected Sookie would take that as her cue to leave – not that I wanted her to. Instead she followed me back down the hallway from his room, but she didn’t stray anywhere near the front door and seemed to be stuck in a patch of invisible quicksand that lurked between the foyer and the living room.
Wondering if my magnetic pull would work in this instance, I asked, “Do you want to hang out and watch a movie?” But since it was already after ten – and knowing Sam was probably filling his bladder all day long in preparation for her next golden shower – I added, “Or do you need to get home?”
They didn’t live together, but I didn’t know what their routine was. In all honesty, I didn’t want to know, but I felt relieved nonetheless when she eyed my flat screen and asked, “Whatcha got?”
“What are you in the mood for?” I returned.
“Surprise me,” she smiled and took a seat on the couch.
Thinking she may or may not be surprised by my hard-on, I discarded the idea of offering her that option. Thankfully I’d already unpacked everything beforehand, so it was easy to go through my collection and I pulled out her favorite. Without giving her any clues, I popped it into the DVD player and just waited for the movie to come onto the screen when she gasped, recognizing it at once, and said, “You remembered.”
“Of course I do,” I replied, smiling at her reaction.
“But I took…”
Her words trailed off, but she didn’t need to finish them for me to know what she was thinking.
She’d taken the copy we’d had together when she packed her things and left.
“But I bought another copy,” I offered when she didn’t say anything more.
We’d been sitting far enough apart on the couch that two Hunter’s could’ve fit in between us, but she closed the distance and leaned against my side, with her eyes trained on the screen and softly whispered, “But you hate this movie.”
But I loved her.
But I didn’t say that and she could infer all she wanted, regardless of me not having her name tattooed on my arm. Instead I snaked that same arm behind her back to pull her into my side and together we fell asleep at some point, watching the dumbest movie on the planet.
The Princess Bride.