I don’t know what she’d been expecting me to say, but by the look on her face I would guess that wasn’t it. And after a long moment, she only sounded even more confused when she finally asked, “You love me?”
When I nodded, it seemed she needed some clarification because she followed up with, “You love me like…we have history and a kid together love me?”
But she was asking.
I wasn’t going to lie to her.
And knowing now wasn’t the time to hold anything back, I went for broke and admitted, “I love you like my heart stops beating and I can’t breathe whenever I see you. I love you like I can’t imagine my future without seeing you in it. I love you like I would do anything – pay any price – if it meant I could go back in time and change what happened. But I know that I can’t and I know I have no right to hope you feel the same way. I hate myself for what I did and what it ended up costing all of us. I count my lucky fucking stars every day that you never held it against me when it came to Hunter. But when you left me – rightfully so – I lost my best friend and the only girl I’ll ever love at the same time.”
Losing out on seeing Hunter grow up by proxy was equally as painful, but this conversation wasn’t about him.
It was about us.
Her eyes filled with unshed tears and she forced her wobbling lower lip to cooperate enough to ask, “What am I supposed to do with that?”
But in spite of the seriousness of our conversation, I couldn’t help the chuckle that came out or the reminder that caused it as I smirked, “You asked me that same question on the night we met.”
Granted, at the time she’d been referring to my dick, seeing it for the first time.
Right before I showed her what I could do with it.
I was no OJ.
It did in fact fit like a glove.
My reminder caught her off guard and her skin flamed red, but her embarrassment quickly turned into anger when she hissed, “Is that what this is about? You want to fuck me?”
Like a Mac with an iPod, our angry buttons were perfectly synced because her accusation set me off. Already feeling raw and exposed, it was easy to turn that vulnerability into anger, so I hissed back – mindful of Hunter’s proximity and not wanting him to overhear anything – “No! That’s not what this is about. If all I wanted to do was fuck you, I would just do this!”
And that was how I ended up fucking myself by snatching her into my arms and crashing my lips down onto hers.
I hadn’t been thinking about the promise I’d made to myself that I wouldn’t do something like that. Or how much I hadn’t wanted to make things more complicated for her. That I’d sworn I wasn’t going to put the moves on her.
But she’d pushed my buttons and I couldn’t stop myself from pushing hers back.
It was a pattern for us.
So much for being a better man.
And since I’d already fucked up that much of my Better Man Plan, I decided to go all in. Her gasp of surprise was all I needed to sweep my tongue into her mouth and it only took a moment before our one-sided kiss became a team effort.
With Sookie giving me her own reminder that she was a goddamn MVP.
My memories of her in that way didn’t do her justice, but it seemed that our muscle memory worked just fine because as soon as my hands made their way down to grip her ass, her legs automatically slid up my sides, while I lifted her. And for a long moment, I just held her body against my own, enjoying the feel of her against me.
It had been so long.
Way too fucking long.
And my dick was doing its best to give her a similar reminder.
With the countertop right there – and the perfect height – I sat her down on it and leaned into her, not giving any thought to what we were doing. Who else was in the house or why we shouldn’t be doing it at all.
In that moment, no one else existed except for Sookie and me.
So God and His shitty sense of timing chose to remind me of everything I hadn’t been thinking of when Sookie’s engagement ring snagged the hair on the back of my head, just as Hunter yelled from the living room, “Die sucker!”
It was like he’d known I was trying to fuck his mother, so he was effectively killing my erection.
But it was Sookie who delivered the death blow by pushing against my chest to put some distance between us once she’d freed her ring from my hair and then silently stared back at me. I couldn’t even begin to guess what she was seeing on my face or what her reaction to my lip-lock-sneak-attack was going to be.
But I wouldn’t have been surprised if a slap across the face was in my immediate future.
So I was pleasantly surprised when she seemed to gather her wits and only teased, “Well I guess I was wrong because if that was how you’d go about just trying to fuck me, I would’ve remembered it.”
“Are you saying you don’t remember the first time I did that?” I smiled in return.
I was all over her before we could even get into the amusement park.
So much so that technically we were barred from entering every Six Flags amusement park across the country.
“Are you kidding?” she snickered. “I still haven’t come up with a good excuse to tell Hunter on why I can’t take him to Six Flags Over Texas. Or why I flame red every time he asks.”
“Fuck’em,” I shrugged. “We can take him to Orlando over the summer.”
“Eric,” she sighed, which I didn’t take as a good sign. And she confirmed my suspicions when she slid down from the counter to put herself even further away from me as she stammered, “I can’t…I don’t…”
So when she paused, trying to find the words, my sadistic subconscious filled in the blanks with my own.
I can’t imagine living the rest of my life without you.
I don’t want you to marry anyone else but me.
But I didn’t know how to react when the only thing she did was sadly shake her head and say, “I have to go. I can’t think straight with you around. I never could.”
Before I could do or say anything in response she walked out of the room and yelled for Hunter.
And like the puppy she’d been dead set against me getting for him, I followed her out into the foyer.
Sookie was doing her best to act like I hadn’t just bared my soul or gotten reacquainted with the fillings in her back molars, so I tried to do the same and only looked at Hunter.
Whose face was now stained orange from his nose down to his chin.
Looking back at me with a questioning expression, I reached out to scrape a piece of tomato from his cheek and said, “You’ll need to fill out a little more, but you’re the right height. If you dip the rest of your body in marinara, you can just slip in with the all of the other Oompa Loompas in Willy Wonka’s Chocolate Factory.”
“Sweet!” he grinned, without missing a beat.
I couldn’t help but grin back at him, but it faltered a bit hearing Sookie clear her throat, right before she said, “So I guess I’ll see you tomorrow?”
My brain wasn’t firing on all cylinders at the moment, but I just considered myself lucky that nothing else had fired off in my shorts. And for a second I’d gotten my hopes up that she’d managed to do all of her thinking between the kitchen and the foyer and had come to the conclusion that everything I’d said and done in the last twenty minutes was enough to sway her back into my life permanently.
But lucky stars aside, I wasn’t that lucky.
I found out the hard way when she gave me yet another reminder by adding, “It’s the last practice before opening day on Saturday, right?”
“Right,” I finally agreed out loud, while Hunter grimaced at his own reminder on their way out of the door. I hated seeing him so down and wanted to cave and let him play on opening day, but I wouldn’t.
If I had to learn how to be a better man, then he had to learn how to be a better son to his mother.
Life lessons were a bitch but necessary.
I’d just gotten a reminder of that myself.
By the following day, I felt like I was slowly going out of my mind, which was probably why I got there a little earlier than normal. But when I arrived at the practice field, there was another Stackhouse in attendance instead of the one I’d been hoping to see.
And since I had made Sookie cry once upon a time, I wouldn’t have been surprised if he tried to beat the shit out of me.
And still feeling guilty about it all, I just might let him.
Knowing I couldn’t avoid him for the rest of my life, I figured I might as well get it over with and walked up to him saying, “Hey Jay. How’ve you been?”
I hadn’t spoken to Jason since before Sookie and I had broken up, but I’d always liked him. He was normally a fun guy to hang out with.
And I still felt like I owed him for spilling his beer down the front of Sookie’s shirt on the night we’d met.
He glared up at me from the bleacher he was sitting on, but he moved over to give me room to sit down next to him and said, “I should hand you your ass for what went down between you and my sister, but she already told me she wouldn’t post my bail and I don’t wanna sit in jail all weekend long.”
I chuckled, imagining Sookie’s wagging finger as she said that very thing, when he shrugged, adding, “Besides, you done right by them since then, so if you wanna be an idiot for lettin’ her go, that’s on you.”
Thanks for the reminder, asshole.
“It’s not like I could’ve forced her to stay,” I shot back without thinking, as I took the seat next to him.
God knows I’d wanted her to, but I knew I fucked up. I didn’t blame her for leaving.
“It’s not like you asked her to,” he replied just as quickly.
“Yes I…” I began to say, but then stopped.
I hated thinking about the night my life turned upside down, so I didn’t do it often. At least not the detailed version, but now as I sat there, I went over every word spoken by each of us that I could recall. And while there were a fuckton of ‘I’m sorry’s’ that had come out of my mouth, I couldn’t remember a single ‘stay’ or anything similar.
Had I really not begged her for another chance to make things right between us?
Would she have stayed if I had?
The mental box marked ‘fucked up’ simply wasn’t big enough to contain that huge fuck up, now thinking maybe I hadn’t.
Jason hadn’t said a word while I internally rewrote my own history, so I was startled when he spoke up asking, “You wanted her to stay?”
“Of course I wanted her to stay,” I sighed, burying my face in my hands.
Jason was by no means a scholastic genius, but then neither was I.
I wasn’t even smart enough to ask the woman I loved more than anything to stay.
When I finally looked over at him, he just shrugged and said, “Shoulda said something sooner. She’s gonna marry that asshole Sam now.”
“I know,” I groaned.
And I did know.
That I should’ve said something sooner and that she was going to marry that asshole.
“Why is he an asshole?” I asked.
I knew why I thought he was an asshole, but I wasn’t particularly objective when it came to him. But that could probably be said about any man she was about to marry.
“Just is,” he shrugged and added, “I thought they were on their way to bein’ done, since it seemed like she was only with him by default. There ain’t nobody ‘round here worth gettin’ worked up over and Sam’s priority has always been that shithole he owns. But they both got squirrelly when you didn’t get signed by another team and decided to move here to be closer to Hunt. Next thing I know there’s a ring on her finger.”
“Why?” I asked. “I can maybe see why Sam would feel like he would have to stake his claim, but why would Sookie worry about me moving here?”
And why would Sam even worry about me at all when what we had together ended four years earlier?
Sookie hadn’t said anything negative about my moving to Louisiana either. If anything, she seemed happy I was willing to move to be closer to Hunter.
She’d even heaped more praise on me for being a good father.
Jason just shook his head and looked at me like I was an idiot before saying, “You think she wants to see you with a new hot young babe on your arm every time she turns around? At least when you didn’t live here, she didn’t have to see it with her own two eyes. But if she’s with Sam, then at least she ain’t gotta look at you with your flavor of the week and be alone.”
“She told you that?” I asked, with my head now reeling.
I’d reverted back to not really noticing any woman after laying eyes on Sookie again and when I did notice them, it was only to confirm they didn’t hold a candle to her. But it explained her digs about my social calendar and all of the barbs about the imaginary women I wasn’t fucking on the nights I didn’t have Hunter around.
But did that mean she still wanted me too or was it leftover baggage from how we’d broken up?
“She ain’t gotta,” he replied. “I know my sister.”
And I couldn’t fault his logic because I knew – while he was flighty at times – he was like Rain Man when it came to reading Sookie.
It was how he’d known there was no changing her mind when she up and decided to stay with me in Arlington. It was why he’d given me a ‘Come-to-Jesus’ before he’d left her with me because he’d known his baby sister was adamant about staying.
What in the fuck had I done?
“You still love her.”
His words hung there between us, but I couldn’t have denied it if my life depended on it. Even if I hadn’t already admitted as much to her the night before, I was sure the answer was written all over my face.
But even so, I attempted to hide it behind my hands, as I confirmed, “Yes.”
“You still in love with her?” he asked, sounding very much like his sister the night before.
I should have flown him out to have him referee our fight when I admitted to cheating on her.
It would’ve been worth the beat down he would’ve given me if it meant she would have stayed with me.
Hindsight was a nasty fucker, but I knew I wouldn’t be able to deny I was still in love with her, with a straight face. So I skirted around the topic altogether by reminding us both, “She’s with Sam.”
Regardless of my admission to her or what happened between us the night before, I wasn’t optimistic it had been enough to change her mind and call off the wedding. Whatever her reasoning was for accepting his marriage proposal, the fact was she had.
I was the idiot who’d bought her a ring and then never even bothered to ask her to stay, much less propose marriage to her.
“That she is, my friend,” he said and patted me on the shoulder adding, “So I guess we’ll see if you can manage to pull your head out of your ass in time to say something to her about it before she becomes Sookie Merlotte.”
“I already did,” I replied, wondering what else I could do or say to convince her to give me another shot, when Sam had already managed to convince her to put his ring on her finger.
Suddenly, trying to take the high road when it came to their relationship felt like it would be my biggest fuck up to date.
“Oh yeah?” he asked, sounding more amused than anything and added, “And what did she say?”
But instead of saying that, I fast forwarded past her stammering and said, “That she needed to think.”
“Well that’s never good,” he chuckled and irrationally, I wanted to hit him.
Because I suspected he was right.
But before I could deck my once-upon-a-time common-law-brother-in-law, Hunter ran up to us and smiled, “Hi Uncle Jay!” before morphing into Oliver Twist when he looked at me and asked, “Can I pleeeaaase play on opening day?”
“Sure,” I smiled and just as his frown was turning upside down, I added, “Video games. Legos. Hell, I’ll even give you a rematch on our volleyball game in the pool after the baseball game. But you are not playing in the game and I would strongly advise you to not be a brat about it or else your one game suspension will turn into two.”
Our discussion led to me giving a quick synopsis to Jason on why Hunter wouldn’t be playing in the first game of the season. And after seeing his uncle’s disapproving glare aimed his way, to his credit, Hunter only dropped his shoulders in disappointment before saying, “Okay.”
Seeing the majority of the team was now congregated near the dugout – and not seeing Andy anywhere nearby – I stood up and led him over towards his teammates saying, “Actions have consequences, buddy. Better to learn that now than later on in life.”
It was a lesson I’d learned all too well.
I didn’t ask him where his mother was or what – if anything – she’d told him about what her reasons were for marrying Sam once they were alone.
I was too chicken shit to hear the answers to all of the above.
But seeing the open boxes lying on the ground, containing the t-shirts they would be wearing as their uniform, my own frown had no problem staying upside down, seeing who the team’s sponsor was emblazoned on the back of the shirts.
Merlotte’s Bar and Grille.
Fuck. My. Life.
Was it too late to order new shirts?
I’d be willing to pay for them and the rush job they would need, just to keep his name off of my kid’s back.
Not only was my life fucked, but it seemed karma was having a great old time fucking me in the ass too because as the assistant coach, I would have to wear one of the shirts.
Being a better man was a lot harder than I thought.
And it had nothing to do with keeping my dick out of nameless women.
Surprisingly Andy was there for practice, so it went a lot smoother keeping the kids on track, with both of us there to corral them.
And seeing the first baseman fielding every ball hit into left field, before the left fielder could even get to it, made selling him on the idea of swapping the infielders with the outfielders a lot easier too.
I would guess it was the excitement of opening day the following day that had the kids acting like they’d been shooting Pixie Stix straight into their bloodstreams. So when the practice was winding down, I got them all to expend what was left of their excess energy by getting them involved in a game of tag.
And I was ‘it’.
It didn’t take long before I was chasing a bunch of munchkins around the field. But with my longer legs and my habit of running no less than five miles every day, I had to make the effort to not catch one of them.
Holding my arms out like giant claws and making T-Rex-like noises at them, every time I got near one, took no effort whatsoever.
By the time they all started dropping to the ground like flies, I refrained from calling any of them pussies and considered that my biggest Better Man Plan accomplishment to date.
Which was sad, no matter how true.
But it was while I was walking over to get a bottle of water that my own feet suddenly felt leaden because they stopped on a dime, seeing Sookie standing there.
Now who’s the pussy?
Both sad and true.
She was smiling just a little, but I could tell she’d been crying at some point because her eyes were puffy and red. It made me wonder whose ass I would have to kick.
Sam’s or my own – it was a tossup.
But as I took in her entire appearance, my feet started moving again all on their own, so I kept telling myself to not get my hopes up.
That it might not mean anything and I was reading into something that was completely innocent.
But it wasn’t really working.
Like my heart.
I was sure it had stopped beating, just as I was sure I couldn’t stop staring at her left hand, now that it was missing the diamond reminder of her engagement.