“A Great Dane!” Hunter exclaimed excitedly, deciding to ignore his mother’s repeated, “No!” and choosing to stare directly at me.
The good guy or the bad guy.
It depended on whose eyes you were looking through at the moment.
“I said no,” Sookie reiterated to him and then looked at me with an expectant glare adding, “Sam is allergic to dogs.”
“More like he’s terrified of terriers,” Hunter mumbled under his breath.
Sookie either chose to ignore his comment or she hadn’t heard him, but it didn’t matter to me what Sam’s issues were. And after taking a moment to think about it, I couldn’t come up with a single reason why Hunter couldn’t have a dog. I could see why Sookie wouldn’t want the added hassle of raising a puppy – terrified of terriers fiancé aside – but it could stay at my house and I had nothing but time to train it.
But I also didn’t want to fight with her over it in front of Hunter, so I gave him the task of schlepping the gear to my car and waited for him to be out of earshot to ask, “Why don’t you want him to have a dog?” And figuring it couldn’t hurt to begin building my case now, I added, “He’s old enough to help care for one and it can stay at my house if you don’t want it at yours.”
“And who’s going to take care of it when he’s not there?” she asked and added incredulously, “You?”
“Yes, me,” I shot back, wondering where in the hell her bitchface had sprung up from. “You have no problems letting our son come home with me for the weekend, but you think I can’t take care of a dog?”
“Our son knows how to work a phone to call for help if he needs to. I doubt you’ll luck into adopting Lassie or Rin Tin Tin,” she shot back.
I was thisclose to asking if her irrational tirade stemmed from the fact she was engaged to a pussy who was afraid of a little Yorkie. And had I not been distracted by how turned on I was, fighting with her, I probably would have.
Sookie was always her most fuckable when she was furious.
“Are you trying to make me the bad guy?” she asked when I didn’t say anything.
“Are you trying to say I’m a complete idiot, who can’t care for a dog?” I returned.
But instead of answering my question, she blindsided me by asking another one.
“Why did you buy another copy of The Princess Bride?”
“What?” I asked, with my anger falling to the wayside, while I hoped to stall for time to come up with a reasonable excuse.
It fell into my bag at the checkout counter in Best Buy and I didn’t want to go through the hassle of getting a refund, so I just shoved it into my collection?
It mysteriously appeared one day and I was afraid to throw it out and piss off the ghostly spirits who must have left it there?
It was a free gift with purchase when I happened to buy a bag of chocolate bars and a box of tampons at the same time?
Because I wasn’t about to admit I bought it because I’d missed her and just having it around made me feel like I still had a part of her with me. Or that just by looking at it sitting there, I could even sometimes pretend she was just out running errands and would be back any minute.
Because I was lame.
It would’ve been easier to explain away her name tattooed across my chest.
So when I couldn’t come up with yet another lame reason why I would’ve bought a box of tampons in the first place, when she repeated her question, I decided to just man up and respond.
But by the look on her face, it appeared my manly shrug wasn’t a good enough answer for her.
I was saved from having to come up with a verbal response when Hunter reappeared at our sides and asked, “Well? Can I have one?”
And from his hopeful expression, Hunter appeared to have only heard my “We’ll see,” reply and – more than likely – was choosing to not hear his mother’s vehement, “No!”
So I tried to find that better man I’d been trying to be for his sake and shook my head, attempting to take one for the parenting-tag-team we’d recently established, by saying, “Not right now, little man.”
But my good intentions seemed to piss him off, with Sookie being pelted by the splash back, as he turned his angry eyes on her and yelled, “It’s not fair! He’s only saying no because of you! And you’re only saying no because of Sam!”
“HEY!” we both yelled simultaneously.
But he ignored that too, unfortunately having inherited his fighting genes from both sides of his DNA, and yelled, “I hate Sam! I don’t want you to marry him! Why can’t you just marry Dad? He still loves you!”
“Hey…” I repeated with wide eyes, wishing we’d never taught him how to talk at all, while Sookie only screeched, “WHAT?”
Thankfully the field was empty now that practice was over, so there wasn’t anyone around to see my kid showing his ass.
Mine may have been Sookie’s favorite part of me, but Hunter’s – not so much.
So I proved nature versus nurture was everything it was cracked up to be, by showing my own skills at ignoring things, and only looked at him saying, “Apologize to your mother. Right. Now.”
“What?” Sookie muttered beside us.
I ignored that too, getting the feeling she wasn’t questioning his need to apologize.
“But I…” he tried to argue.
So I cut him off before he could out any more of my secret Sookie feelings and said, “But nothing. Tell her you’re sorry and you’d better sound like you mean it.”
“Sorry,” he huffed in her direction, only sounding like he meant to get a spanking. But thoughts of beating my kid into submission, turned into thoughts of beating him into being an amnesiac, when he added, “But I still think you should marry Dad. He said…”
So I cut him off again and said, “He said you’re going to sit out the first game of the season.”
“What?” he screeched, sounding just like his mother and proving nurture over nature had some validity too, and quickly added, “When did you say that?”
“Right now,” I replied. “You want to show your mother your ass? Well she can see it sitting on the bench on opening day.”
“Exactly,” I stared down at him. “Your butt will be parked in the dugout. Keep talking and you can try for game two.”
His face turned red and his nostrils flared, but his teeth remained clenched – if not grinding a little – as he stormed away.
But I had a good dental plan, so I wasn’t too worried about whatever damage he could be doing to them.
With the distraction of our son now stomping off towards Sookie’s car, I had no choice but to turn and face her.
And the other damage he’d done with his big mouth.
She stared back at me, looking sucker punched.
It was a look I remembered all too well on her and only made me feel even worse.
“No!” she interrupted, cutting off my apology, with her own face turning red and gave a go, at sucker punching me back by adding, “What are you doing here?”
My confused expression only seemed to anger her more because her hands started flying as she said, “Why are you here, acting like the perfect father by putting visions into his head about dogs and whatnot when we both know the only dog here is you? You waltz up in here and suddenly everything’s changed. You’re changing everything. So what game are you playing at now that baseball isn’t it? Pretending we’re still a family in front of your neighbors. Putting in my favorite movie that you always likened to having your teeth pulled out one by one. Not giving Dawn or any other woman a second glance when they try to pick you up. Is it for Hunter’s sake? For mine? Because I’m not buying your celibate Father Northman routine and while I don’t want Hunter subjected to your harem of lady friends, I certainly don’t want him blindsided when he finally figures out who you really are. I know what that’s like and I’ll be damned if you do that to him too. I don’t know what you want. I don’t know what you think you’re doing here, but do me a favor and quit lying to your son. The last thing he needs is to believe anything about you has changed, other than your address.”
Angry tears were trailing down her cheeks by the time her tirade was over, but I did nothing to stop her when she stormed off and drove away.
Not when anything I wanted to say would have only made things worse.
For all three of us.
A part of me was pissed at her for thinking I was trying to game either one of them, but the larger part of me was pissed at myself because I had no one to blame but me. If I hadn’t fucked everything up, we probably would be married right now. She wouldn’t have to question my motives or anything else and Hunter wouldn’t be forced to deal with any of it.
He would probably be playing with the dog he wanted right at that very moment.
Christ, I was an asshole.
And as much as I wanted to own up to it – to all of it – by the end of the night I was only the owner of an empty bottle of Jack and numb to everything else.
The next day was my day to pick up Hunter after school, but not knowing if the plan had changed – since I apparently changed everything, without even knowing it – I thought better of taking it for granted that hadn’t changed and called Sookie around lunchtime to make sure she hadn’t taken out a restraining order on me.
I would hate for Andy to have to arrest his assistant coach three days before opening day.
Her phone rang for long enough I expected it to go to voicemail, when she finally answered with a clipped out, “Eric.”
“Sookie,” I replied, sounding uncertain thanks to everything from the night before.
“Did you misdial?” she asked, having heard the question in my tone and deciding to misread that too. “You don’t sound too sure, so if I’m not the woman you meant to call, I’ll hang up now.”
“Would you just stop?” I angrily hissed into the phone, more pissed at me than her. “I’m sorry.”
“What are you sorry for?” she asked after a minute of silence.
For fucking everything up and not marrying you when I had the chance.
But instead of opening that deadly can of worms, I only admitted to, “For upsetting you. For upsetting your life and Hunter’s, with me moving here. I just…I know I can’t make up for anything that’s happened in the past, but I want to be a part of his life, Sookie. He’s my son and I love him.”
Thankfully I’d pissed the liter of Jack out of my system earlier that morning and left that part out, but Jack Daniels wasn’t the only kind of pissed I could be when she said, “I mean it, Eric. I don’t want you lying to him.”
She always could push my buttons.
All of them.
Which was why my dick stirred, having perfect recall of what makeup sex with her was like. She was the best I’d ever had.
My numerous attempts at finding better over the years had proven that.
So my mouth got the better of me, with it angrily asking, “Just what do you think I’ve been lying to him about?”
“About you still loving me!” she snapped back. But her tone lost its edge when she added, “He certainly didn’t get that idea from me.”
“For fuck’s sake,” I mumbled, running my hands over my face and trying to sober up enough to not fuck up anything else.
But I never could lie to her, even when I’d known it would cost me her.
And having lived through that once already, I knew I could survive it. And she wasn’t mine to lose a second time anyway, so I admitted as much as I was willing to by saying, “I didn’t lie to him. He asked. I answered. But I told him you were marrying Sam and that was that.”
“What?” she eventually asked, sounding just like she had the night before.
But my gut was in bad enough shape already and I didn’t want to go through the pain of her verbally walloping me again, so I only repeated, “You’re marrying Sam. End of story.”
“He’s a good man,” she eventually offered.
If you say so.
But can he walk into one or is he terrified of horses like he is terriers?
“He loves me.”
So do I.
She sounded like she was trying to convince herself he was worth marrying, but I certainly wasn’t going to jump on the Marry Sam bandwagon, so I didn’t say anything at all.
And when she stopped talking too, I figured enough had been said by both of us on that painful topic. But still needing an answer to the question I hadn’t posed yet, I got to the point of my call by asking, “Am I still getting Hunter after school? After last night, I didn’t want to assume everything hadn’t changed.”
So what if I sounded a little pissy.
I could push her buttons right back.
For that, I was an all-star.
Not to be outdone, she snipped right back with, “I assumed you were or did something change? Your social calendar, perhaps?”
Asking if she was jealous was on the tip of my tongue.
So I bit down on it to keep it from coming out and only said, “No. That hasn’t changed and I would appreciate it if you would stop trying to make me feel like a dirtbag when I only want to spend time with my son.”
She had every right to feel that way, but she didn’t have the right to give me shit over something I hadn’t even done.
Recently, that is.
And, according to her, she was marrying a good, stable man who loved her.
So what if I chose to date someone too?
Not that I had any plans to anytime soon.
But she didn’t need to know about that.
Her deep inhale was followed by the sound of a long sigh, when she eventually said, “You’re right and I’m sorry. You’ve always been a good father.”
If she’d been a telepath, she would have second guessed that assessment the night before when my parental instincts had me wanting to beat him into a coma to keep him from telling her any more of my no-longer-secret feelings for her.
“After last night, I doubt he’s thinking I’m the best dad around,” I chuckled.
And then grimaced at the thought of him possibly preferring Sam over me right about now.
“He still loves his dad,” she laughed. “He’s just upset with his coach for benching him.”
“Well then he shouldn’t mouth off to his mother.”
It was a topic we would be revisiting later on that afternoon when I picked him up.
“See?” she quietly asked, with her smile coming through in her tone. “Good dad.”
I was sure I wasn’t the only one thinking that at the moment, so I only said, “I’ll bring him home by eight? I’ll make sure he has his homework done by then too.”
“That’s a lot of running back and forth,” she said and then offered, “How about I pick him up at your place after dinner? I have some errands in Shreveport I can do after work, until then.”
Knowing she would be tired after working all day, my mouth once again acted without my brain’s consent by offering, “Is there any I can do for you? I’m already here and I don’t have anything to do until school lets out.”
“Uh…” she stuttered and paused for long enough to make me wonder if she’d been planning on shopping for lingerie.
And I didn’t feel any better – when I knew I had no right to care one way or the other when she didn’t say what her errands were – when she finally said, “No, that’s okay. I’ll just come get him around seven. Is that too early?”
And maybe it was because she’d unwittingly pushed my silk and lace covered buttons that made me respond, “Why don’t you make it six-thirty and then you can have dinner with us?”
“Eric,” she sighed and then seemed to be whispering into the phone when she asked, “Are you asking because the redhead and brunette are creeping around your yard again or is there something else going on here?”
I was pretty sure my mind had been set that she was marrying Sam and that was that.
End of story.
But hearing her trying to convince herself she should marry him may have made me think something else could happen.
That maybe it wasn’t the end of our story just yet.
While it could be the hurt over our past that made her lash out about me and other women, she’d sounded jealous too.
She wouldn’t feel jealous if she didn’t care, would she?
I wouldn’t put the moves on her – as much as I wanted to – but that didn’t mean I couldn’t show her I’d changed some too.
Not my feelings for her.
But knowing her well enough to know she would fight me tooth and nail if she thought I was trying to play any games with her – because I wasn’t – I hoped my sincerity came through in my voice when I replied, “There’s nothing else going on.”
That she needed to know about.
And I added to my case by saying, “I just thought it would be nice to have dinner together with our son and after working all day, and running errands afterwards, I figured the last thing you would want to do was cook when you got home.”
That was something a good dad would do for the mother of his son, right?
I was grateful I’d been sitting down and that I hadn’t Skyped her to talk instead, when she quietly asked, “Why did you buy another copy of The Princess Bride?”
Why hadn’t I thought to have Hunter homeschooled?
I could have used a little bit of his distraction right about then.
And with no dropped call or tree dropping down on my house at that moment – and a long pause after that – I had no choice but to answer her question.
I never could lie to her.
But I could at least have some self-preservation instincts, which is why I only admitted, “Because I missed you.”
And while I was sorry for why she had left, missing her would be the last thing I would be sorry about.