“Hey,” she softly greeted, as soon as I reached her.
I was guessing she was ignoring the fact my eyes had yet to leave her left hand.
I wouldn’t know since I was ignoring every other part of her body – to include her eyes – when she tried to joke, “I see you still run like a newborn Velociraptor.”
I was raptor-like alright.
And I had my hawk-like eyes to thank for catching sight of her bare left hand.
But now all I could register was the fact there wasn’t even a tan line on her finger. Granted, they’d only gotten engaged a few weeks before, but Sookie worshipped the sun.
There should have been a mark left behind.
Either God had been refusing to acknowledge the ring had been there all along too or He was forgiving me for every sin I’d ever committed.
It would be its own little miracle, considering my Judgment Day would’ve been more like Judgment Decade.
But it took her putting her hand in her pocket for me to finally look back at her. And seeing her puffy red eyes again, I lowered my voice and asked, “What happened?”
Instead of reaching out to touch her face like I wanted to, I had to force my hands to remain at my sides. But I’d done enough uninvited touching of her the night before.
Besides, the only button she’d managed to push so far was my Protective Asshole button, and that would just get my fists to connect to Sam’s face.
She opened her mouth to respond, but then she shut it again and forced it into a small smile, while her eyes traveled to my right, just as I heard, “Did you see Dad do his Jurassic Park impersonation?”
Sookie giggled that she had, while Hunter reenacted some ridiculous cross between Frankenstein and Godzilla. So I took a deep breath and forced patience into my now impatient mood, trying to figure out where to go from there.
If only he’d been just a little older, I may have just tossed him my car keys and told him to drive himself home, so I could have a few uninterrupted minutes with Sookie.
If his age had broken double digits, all bets would’ve been off.
Why couldn’t I have knocked Sookie up on the night we’d met?
It certainly wasn’t from a lack of trying. And surely, ten years old was old enough to drive somewhere on the planet.
But before I could chuck my Better Man Plan altogether, in favor of formulating a plan to kidnap Sookie, she spoke up and offered, “Why don’t we ask Dad if he wants to follow us home and hang out for a while?” And looking up at me, she added, “Unless you have other plans?”
Her invitation made my kidnapping plans a moot point, so I smiled and was about to agree that there was no other place I would rather be, when we were interrupted once again.
And hearing the voice of our latest interruption, my Protective Asshole button was newly pressed.
Like my patience.
Sam’s voice was the last one I’d wanted to hear and it only grated on my nerves even more, hearing him growl, “So it had absolutely nothing to do with him, huh?”
“Sam,” Sookie quietly hissed, while she pulled Hunter behind her.
As though she had to protect our son from him.
With my protective instincts already red-lined, all I had to do was turn around to put myself between him and them.
And wonder briefly if Sookie would bail ME out of jail or if I would have to sit there all weekend long.
But staring at the red-faced little peckerhead, I decided it would be worth it.
And his face was only turning redder when he opened his mouth again, but I verbally beat him to the punch – because my Better Man Plan said I shouldn’t physically beat him with a punch or ten – and said, “Whatever’s on your mind, this isn’t the time or place for it, Sam.”
Never and nowhere were at the top of my lists for the right time and place for the conversation he seemed dead set on having, but here and now were at the rock bottom. Hunter was right there. The majority of the team was still milling about, along with all of their parents.
Any and all of the above might get the wrong impression of my Better Man Plan if I beat his ass for just looking at Sookie wrong.
And since he was staring daggers at us both, I wondered if maybe Jason would bail me out of jail.
His callused finger rose up and jabbed me in the chest, as he snarled, “You don’t get to tell me anything! This is between me and her. Somebody needs to tell her how stupid she is for throwing everything away. And I know it’s because of you no matter what she says. You think you’re some sort a big shot because you played mediocre ball in the Major Leagues? Well, I’m not impressed and I’m not afraid of you.”
“What about me?”
The sound of Jason’s voice cut through the tension surrounding us all, just before his uppercut to Sam’s jaw dropped him to his back.
A part of me was pissed he got to hit him first.
The rest of me was mentally grabbing my checkbook in case I needed to bail him out of jail.
I turned around enough to see that Sookie had already taken Hunter to the parking lot, so I could only hope he hadn’t heard any of the shit that had spewed from Sam’s – now busted – mouth.
And then I turned back around, hoping he would be stupid enough to stand back up and give me a reason to knock him back down.
But Jason was already leaning over him, giving him nowhere to go, and warned, “Now I’m gonna assume my sister finally got her head out of her ass and ain’t marryin’ your sorry one anymore. So now that you’re done pissin’ and moanin’ that Eric’s dick is bigger than yours, you’d be best off just leavin’ it be. Don’t go lookin’ for a fight you can’t win because if you so much as look at my sister wrong again, I’ll make sure they never find your body. Got it?”
Did I mention how much I liked Jason?
I moved to stand just behind him and to his left, while I crossed my arms and put myself into Sam’s line of sight to let him know I would be the one helping Jason to dig his grave. His eyes traveled back and forth between the two of us, while his thin lips pulled tight and twisted, like he could taste the shit I was sure was still sitting on his tongue.
But he wisely chose to swallow it back down and roughly pushed himself to his feet, only grumbling out, “Whatever,” and stomping away.
Surprisingly, we hadn’t drawn any attention to ourselves. So we both stood there in identical poses, side by side – and with our differences in height, likely looking like the two bars my cell managed to get in that town – until Sam’s truck finally drove off.
Jason waited until the taillights were out of view, to look at me and chuckle, “Know of any good bars out your way? I gotta feelin’ I won’t be welcome at the one around here.”
I slapped him on the back and laughed, “Fuck that. I say we open our own right across the street from his.”
I’d be happy to kill him either way.
But two bars in a town this small?
Only one would survive and I had a feeling it wouldn’t be his.
But when his eyes darted over my shoulder, Jason’s happy expression quickly turned into a scared shitless one and his hand shot up to give a quick wave, before he turned around and ran off, yelling over his shoulder, “Love ya, sis. Bye!”
Maybe I didn’t like Jason as much as I thought I did.
But knowing I would have to face the music eventually, I turned around and waited for Sookie to close the distance. When she finally came to a stop just in front of me, she didn’t say anything at first, so I eventually offered, “Sooo…Jay looks good.”
Her eyes only narrowed and shot towards the parking lot, like she could reel him back with her glare alone, before she turned them back on me and said, “I can’t believe he did that.”
“He’s your brother, Sookie. If anything, he went easy on him.”
God only knows what I would’ve done to him, if Jason hadn’t beat me to it. So I felt like I had to stick up for him, even if a part of me was still pissed at him for being the one to get to hit Sam.
“Not Jason,” she huffed. “Sam!”
And since she was still staring at me, I offered my thought out loud in a sheepish, “Oh.”
There were a million questions running through my mind and the majority of them began with, ‘Will you,’ and ended with, ‘marry me?’
But the second half could just as easily be interchanged with, ‘Go out with me?’ ‘Move in with me?’ ‘Be mine until the end of time?’
But I wasn’t Rain Main and couldn’t read her like her brother could. And as much as I wanted to forget he ever existed, Sam’s growled out accusation was still ringing in my ears.
‘So it had absolutely nothing to do with him, huh?’
‘It’ hopefully being the end of their engagement – which I had yet to actually confirm – and ‘him’ hopefully being me.
But he could’ve meant Hunter.
Putting his words into that context only made me want to go and buy a shovel, but thankfully Sookie spoke up – interrupting my mental trip to Home Depot – and said, “Yeah. Oh.”
Her head turned around to where Hunter was waiting patiently in her car – his instincts to behave were serving him well right now – before she turned back to face me and added, “I need to get Hunter home. Do you want to follow us over and we can talk when he goes to bed?”
“Sure,” I nodded, just barely keeping the ‘Duh!’ from coming out.
My instincts to behave were serving me well too.
Like father, like son.
Our convoy of two made it back to their house in less than five minutes, but – like father, like son – those five minutes must have felt like five years to Hunter because no sooner than we had our car doors opened than he said, “There! We’re home! Now will you tell me what’s going on?”
“Keep it up, little man, and home is the only place you’ll be for a very long time,” she casually replied.
His eyes shot towards me, like I would save him from his eternal grounding, but I wasn’t about to do anything to piss her off.
Screw being a better man…
It was every man for himself right now.
Something he must have gathered from my expression, when his turned into one of exasperation, and he wisely chose to turn towards the house.
It took everything I had to not fidget when she made him put his things away before we were all finally gathered around the kitchen table, but at least she got right to the point.
Looking only at Hunter, she said, “Sam and I aren’t engaged anymore.”
I could tell he wanted to pump his fist. Jump for joy. Yell out, ‘Hallelujah!’
Because I was just as sure I was looking into a miniature mirror.
But not knowing how she felt about it all, I stopped him from potentially making her feel worse by offering, “I’m sorry, Sookie.”
It wasn’t even a lie. I was sorry.
If she felt bad.
But that was all I could be sorry for.
And because her telepathic range sometimes had two bars in my vicinity, her eyes shot over to mine, letting me silently know she knew my apology had nothing to do with Sam.
But it would seem our son hadn’t inherited her telepathic gift or mine of choosing your words wisely because he threw himself back in his chair and let out a relieved, “Well I’m not.”
“Hunter,” I barked, which must have reminded him of something else entirely because his eyes widened – not in fear, but with hope – as he looked back at Sookie and asked, “Can we get a dog now?”
She only shook her head with a small grin and looked back at me, saying, “I forgot what it’s like to have the world revolve around me.”
“That’s a crime,” I smiled in return. And because I’d always been drawn towards her from Day One, I couldn’t stop myself from leaning towards her and adding, “I’d be more than happy to remind you what it’s like.”
If she gave me another chance, I would make sure she would never have to question that my world revolved around her.
Our little universe built just for two stopped on a dime and for a long moment we just stared at each other.
And the blush blooming on her cheeks told me her telepathic signal was coming in loud and clear.
But then our little world was broken up by an eight year old alien invader, when he repeated, “So can we?”
He groaned at our unified veto and then reminded me he was one of the Pixie Stix junkies, mainlining sugar directly into his bloodstream, by quickly switching gears and asking, “So does that mean you two are going to get married now?”
I had to clench my jaw to keep myself from saying, ‘Hell yes!’
But it was Sookie who managed to unclench hers first, only saying, “Go take a shower and get ready for bed.”
His argued, “But…” was quickly cut off by her, finishing with, “Exactly. Get your butt into the shower right now, Mister.”
It took me holding up my fingers and mouthing, ‘Two games’ in his direction to get him moving, but he eventually got up from the table.
Once his eyes stopped rolling into the back of his head.
But once he was gone, it was like he’d taken all conversation with him because we sat there in silence for a long time.
When I couldn’t take it anymore, I finally asked, “Why did you break it off?”
I didn’t think I was out of line to ask, since she had been the one to invite me back to talk.
She couldn’t have believed I would want to talk about anything else.
Unless it was to plan our wedding.
I was more than willing to talk about that.
While I mentally shuffled around my sock drawer in search of the ring I’d bought her years earlier, she shrugged and said, “I never should have said yes in the first place.”
She’d been staring at her bare left hand, but when her eyes met mine there was a mixture of shame and sadness behind them when she added, “But it seemed like a good idea at the time.”
“Why is that?” I asked, softening my tone to almost a whisper.
If what Jason had told me was true – that she’d been worried about me flaunting a sea of women in her face – I would happily tell her she had nothing to worry about.
Because she was the only woman I wanted.
I’d laid myself bare to her the night before, but when she didn’t answer me right away, I remembered something else Jason had told me and realized I wasn’t done. So I said, “I can’t believe I never asked you to stay. I didn’t even realize I hadn’t until Jason threw it in my face tonight.”
Her expression said it all.
She couldn’t believe it either.
I just couldn’t be sure if her disbelief stemmed from my past omission or my present admission.
She appeared to be taking it all in – either my words or my slow death across the table from her – when she eventually straightened up and gave me an admission of her own.
“I didn’t break up with Sam because of you.”
By ten thousand angry bees.
That was me.
And then she went on to smack the invisible stingers still dotting my body, by saying, “I deserve better than coming in second to his bar. I deserve better than to be put up on the mantle like a trophy and only shown off when someone else stops by.”
The look she gave me let me know I was the someone else he was showing her off to, but then she floored me by saying, “I never loved him like I loved you. He never made me feel like you used to make me feel. So I guess you could say I agreed to and then ended our engagement for that very same reason.”
She didn’t have to say any more.
I might not have been Rain Man enough to read her like Jason could, but I could read between those lines.
She broke up with him because he never made her feel what I still felt when I just looked at her.
But she only agreed to marry him at all because he never made her feel like I had when I cheated on her.
And because our universe built just for two was rapidly shrinking to the size of barely just one, I found myself asking, “Loved?” And seeing the confusion on her face, I added, “Loved, as in past tense?”
If this was her way of letting me down easy, she really should have given more consideration to my size.
It was going to hurt like a mother fucker when I landed.
I already knew since I’d been through it once before.
But I only had myself to blame.
And maybe after my friends Jack and Jose were done consoling me, I would finally get that tattoo of her name on my other arm.
“We have a son together,” she eventually offered and then added, “We have a history together.”
Her words were the same ones she’d posed as a question to me the night before, after I’d told her that I loved her. But as much as I wanted to force her to answer the question I’d asked, I couldn’t force myself to form the words.
That was me.
But then I remembered it was every man for himself, so I forced a small smile onto my face and playfully said, “Really? You don’t say…”
Never mind that she still wasn’t saying if her love for me only existed in the past.
And when she still wasn’t saying anything else at all, I finally gathered what little courage I had left – reminding myself I only had myself to blame – and sat back with my arms out in surrender and said, “Hit me with it. I’m a big boy, Sookie. If you don’t feel the same way I feel about you, just say so. I can take it.”
I’d probably take it all the way through my liquor cabinet and into the nearest tattoo parlor, but she didn’t need to know the gory details.
Finally, she said, “I trust you with Hunter.” And after another long pause, she added, “But I don’t trust you with me.”
I wasn’t so far gone in our imaginary impending nuptials to believe that I wouldn’t have to work to regain her trust.
“I don’t expect you to,” I replied just as seriously. “And I’m willing to do whatever you need or want me to do in order for you to trust me again. But the question is, are you willing to give me the chance?”
“The chance for what?”
Like my son’s had only a short while earlier, my eyes rolled into the back of my head, hearing his voice as he entered the kitchen. But when they came back to rest at the front, they were met with Sookie’s intense gaze.
Followed up with a small smile.
And finally, a soft spoken, “Yes.”
“Yes?” I questioned, not wanting to take for granted that I hadn’t imagined hearing the only response I wanted to hear.
So when her smile grew wider and she nodded, I was elated.
So much so that the force of my elation forced me over the tabletop and I gave her lips something else to do other than smile.
Even Hunter’s shrieked, “My eyes!” and the ensuing, “Eewww…” fading away in the distance, along with his feet slapping back down the hallway, did nothing to stop me.
Nothing could stop me now that I had the chance to get my family back.
When we finally pulled apart, I didn’t even give her the chance to catch her breath when I asked, “Will you go out with me tomorrow?”
The game would be over by four, so we would have the whole night to do whatever she wanted and she wouldn’t have to worry about having to go to work the next day.
Her small frown was quickly overtaken by a small laugh as she said, “I was going to say that finding a sitter this late would be a miracle. But then I remembered that he’s your kid too, so you can’t get bent out of shape about it.”
I felt drunk being so close to her, but it wasn’t close enough for my liking and she let out a small, “Eep!” when I pulled her across the table and into my lap. Nuzzling my face into her neck, while she giggled that it tickled, I breathed her in and warned, “If we’re taking Hunter with us on our date then you should stop talking about the shapes I can bend you into.”
I chuckled hearing her breathing hitch – my dick, however, found nothing funny about our current situation – but for once I was thinking with my upper head and said, “And you’re right. He’s my munchkin too, so he can tag along. I’ll even leave the windows cracked when we leave him in the car, while I take you dancing.”
Just the thought of it was making my dick dance.
“Okay,” she snickered and then said, “But as long as we’re vying for parents of the year, we should make sure we park in front of a pet store. So close…and yet…so far…”
My dick’s sentiments – exactly.
But with my upper head still in control, my sentiments ran to the more quixotic end of the spectrum because I didn’t realize how much I’d missed being with her like that – having her in my arms, laughing and happy and carefree – until I finally had a sense of it back again.
Of having a sense of what it would be like to have her back in my life.
This was it.
It was all that I wanted.
All that I needed.
A chance to make things right.