“If you don’t mind me asking, what made you go out and buy this?” Sookie asked, running her fingertip along the piping surrounding the leather cushion she was sitting on.
Who knew I could be jealous of a bucket seat?
I’d picked her and Hunter up that afternoon at their house, so we could all go to the ball field together, since we would be leaving from there to go out on our date. But – at the time – she’d only questioned my new vehicle with a raised eyebrow.
Now I would be forced to explain why I thought buying a new 9-passenger Chevy Suburban that morning was a good idea, without scaring her away.
But we couldn’t even fit the one kid we had together in my car with us.
How would we ever fit six more?
Not that I was expecting to have six more kids together.
But I wasn’t opposed to the idea either.
Thankfully Hunter unknowingly had my back because he piped up with his pipe dreams from the third row backseat saying, “So we can take our new Great Dane, Thor, with us whenever we go somewhere?”
“Uh huh,” I chuckled, with an ‘in your dreams’ look back at him through the rearview mirror. “Great Danes take great big dumps, so unless you plan on being around to scoop the poop, you – my S-O-N – are S-O-L.”
“Aww…” he grumbled. “That B-L-O’s.”
“I think somebody needs to go to summer school,” Sookie smiled from beside me.
“It’s the Jason in him,” I chuckled. “Do you remember the time he called us about coming out to visit and when I asked him what dates were good for him, he said, ‘Ain’t none a them good enough to keep me tied down here.’”
“Yes,” she giggled, either over her brother’s blonde moment or my awful impression of him. “But nothing tops the time when he told me he would have to call me back because he couldn’t find his phone. The one he was talking to me on.”
I laughed right along with her and without thinking I reached over and laced my fingers through hers. I hadn’t even realized I’d done it until I felt the last little bit of tension leave my body. Logically, I knew we still had a long way to go. But the fact she was willing to give me the chance to earn her trust back meant more to me than anything.
The soft spoken words left my lips before I’d known my mind had formed the thought and I wasn’t sure she’d even heard them since they were barely above a whisper.
But feeling her hand squeeze my own, I looked over at her just as she quietly said, “You don’t have to thank me, Eric.”
And likely seeing the argument forming in my expression that I definitely knew was forming in my mind, she shook her head to stop me and said, “It takes two to make or break any relationship. I’m not faultless in what happened between us.”
Was she serious?
The look on her face told me she was and I guessed by her next words, she could read my face like the back of her hand.
Glancing back at Hunter and seeing he had his earbuds in, not paying any attention to us, she lowered her voice and said, “Don’t get me wrong. I’m not excusing what you did. Not at all. And while I don’t condone it, I can see now what part I played in it too. I was so busy being a mom and a homemaker that somewhere along the way I put our relationship on the backburner. It wasn’t fair – certainly not to you – but not to either one of us. We were so young when we first met and everything happened so quickly. When Hunter came along, I don’t think either one of us were prepared for what it would take to have a grownup responsible relationship.”
I was the one who was responsible for making our relationship crash and burn.
Squeezing my hand again, she waited until I glanced at her to say, “I’ve forgiven you, Eric. I truly have. I couldn’t have kept you in our lives like I have over the years if I hadn’t. I think it would have been worse if she was more than just a one-time fling, but I believed you when you said that’s all it was. I could see the truth of it on your face. And the fact you told me about it at all, when you could’ve kept it to yourself and I probably would’ve never been the wiser – as much as it hurt at the time – said a lot. But what’s done is done. There’s no changing the past and if we’re going to have any kind of chance at making us work now, then you have to let it go too.”
I’d known – logically – that this topic would rear its ugly head at some point, if Sookie and I were to make a real go at having a relationship again. But I hadn’t expected for it to happen on our first date.
Or – depending on how you looked at it – our second first date.
But I also hadn’t expected her to shoulder any of the blame for what had happened between us.
Or how angry I would feel hearing her say that my cheating on her was in any way her fault.
But with Hunter in the backseat, I couldn’t rail and rage like I really wanted to. So I did the next best thing by gritting my teeth and snarling out, “It wasn’t your fault.”
“An 80/20 split,” she shrugged again, seemingly unfazed by my obvious anger.
And then, tugging on my hand, she waited until I finally looked at her to say, “You asked me last night if I still loved you and the truth is that I do. I never stopped, no matter how hard I tried to. But I’ve had a lot of time to think about us over the years and after the dust settled, and the sting of our breakup faded with time, I could remember all of the good things about us too.”
Like the flip of a switch, my heart pounding away in my chest flipped from furious to hopeful in a split second, hearing her say she still loved me.
But glancing back at her again, she had a faraway look in her eyes, so I stayed quiet and just listened as she eventually said, “From the moment our eyes met, you were it for me. And I knew with all of my heart – then, at least – I was it for you too. You could have had any woman you wanted and for some crazy reason you only wanted me. I never questioned it. I never had to because you only had eyes for me.”
And then turning to face me again, she wasn’t looking into the past anymore. She was looking at me – here and now – and said, “Give me back that feeling and I’ll give you back my heart. And in return I promise I’ll make our relationship a priority. But I also promise that if you stray or give me any reason to question your fidelity, our relationship will be over with for good. I won’t put myself or Hunter through this a second time. I’m just grateful he was too young to really know what was happening the first time. That wouldn’t be the case now.”
She’d laid everything out on the proverbial table, but I didn’t know what to say other than the truth and offered, “I meant what I said to you the other night. I can’t imagine my future without seeing you in it. You’re still ‘it’ for me. The only one I want. The only one I need. And I think I’ve always known that, but for the last four years I did what I could to pretend that wasn’t the case because I honestly never thought I’d get a second chance. But I promise you, I do know that now. I wouldn’t be here if I didn’t. Not only wouldn’t I put you and Hunter through that a second time, I couldn’t handle losing you both again.”
And I involuntarily shuddered, just thinking about it.
We sat in silence for a few moments, when Sookie finally brightened up and decided to change the topic by saying, “Now that we’ve cleared the air, why is it again we’re surrounded by new car scented air?”
Damn steel trap mind of hers.
So I gave her a half-truth by admitting, “Because the three of us wouldn’t fit in my Corvette.”
And seeing her raised brow, I gave her the other half by grinning, “And who’s to say we won’t need the extra room one day?”
“Are you talking about for a dog?” she questioned, with an incredulous smirk.
“Sookie,” I playfully chastised. “Calling our future rugrats ‘dogs’ is just mean.”
“You want more kids?” she whisper asked.
But I couldn’t tell if she was happy or mortified by the idea. Hunter hadn’t been planned, but we’d discussed the possibility of having more children after he’d been born. At the time, we’d decided to wait until he was older to make a decision one way or the other.
We’d just never gotten around to define what ‘older’ was.
And my stupid ass decision to fall into someone else’s bed, leading to her decision to leave my stupid sorry ass, made the decision of whether or not we’d be making any more kids together for us.
So while we were both still young enough to have several more, I didn’t know if that was still something she might want. So I nodded with my admission of, “I would like to eventually have at least one more. I missed out on a lot of Hunter’s early years between playing ball and…everything else. It would be nice to be there to see first steps and first days at school.”
And then meeting her eyes with my own, I added truthfully, “But it’s not a deal breaker if you don’t want any more kids.”
I would be perfectly happy if it was just the three of us until the end of time.
“Honestly, I haven’t given it much thought since…then,” she softly admitted.
Her reply only brought up more questions in my mind about her relationship with Sam, since I assumed having a discussion about having kids was something that went hand in hand when discussing something like marriage.
But I didn’t ask.
Because not only would my assumption make me an ass – how I chose to pass the time by not being in any relationship in our four years apart, in spite of the number of women I’d wasted my time with, would make me an even bigger one.
So while my ass was busy puckering in its new car smelling seat at the thought Sookie might ask about what I’d been up to over the last four years, Hunter came to my rescue by excitedly calling out from the backseat, “Are you guys talking about dogs?”
“That one hears what he wants to hear,” Sookie chuckled. “Time to break his wee wittle heart.”
And then turning to face him, she excitedly said, “Yep!”
I could see his whole face light up in the rearview mirror, right before he fixed his narrowed glare onto her when she added, “Hot dogs, as in you ate a ton of them at the ball field, so you couldn’t possibly be hungry for dinner any time soon.”
“Speak for yourself, woman!” he called back.
And turning her now wide ‘Can you believe the gall of that kid?’ eyes to me, I could only smile back with, “It’s the Jason in him.”
Hunter had sounded exactly like him.
“I swear,” she muttered. “Any other kids we have are not hanging around their Uncle Jason during their formative years, without wearing earplugs. We can teach them sign language instead and tell Jason they only speak Baby Italian.
And then her grimace turned into a giggle, when she added, “Knowing him, he’d probably just think they were reading his mind and ask them, ‘You want some pizza too, little buddy?’”
The smile I felt forming on my face had nothing to do with the overly exaggerated way she was gesticulating with her hands, reminding me of the little old woman who ran our favorite restaurant when we’d visited Italy a few years ago on vacation.
Her hand gestures were always accompanied by the words, “Eat! Eat!” towards the both of us.
She would love Hunter.
And his appetite.
But Sookie’s sometime-telepathy must have been on the fritz and I could only chuckle when she turned towards me and asked, “What? My parents should have named him Dennis for being such a menace!”
So I clued her into my thoughts with a grinned out, “You said ‘kids’.”
Like it was a given.
Even if it was a Freudian slip of the tongue.
She still said it.
“Yeah, well…” she grimaced again. But it soon gave way to a smirk when she added, “Northman babies seem to happen whether or not you’re trying to make one. The proof is bopping his head in the back seat.”
“Oh?” I asked with a smirk of my own and held up our laced hands, adding, “So…I could be getting you pregnant right now?”
“If you are, then you’ve lost your touch,” she laughed. “’Cause I don’t feel a thing.”
Well, I was feeling a thing.
It was stirring in my pants at her challenging words.
“You’re lucky Hunter’s with us,” I warned, without thinking.
Because all I was thinking about was how much room I had to work with to get her pregnant in the backseat.
We wouldn’t be holding hands.
Unless you counted me holding her hands together at the small of her back, while I pounded into her from behind.
That definitely counted with me.
And without blinking an eye, she stared back at me and said, “Maybe it’s you who’s lucky he’s with us.”
Was she putting something down?
In the gutter.
Where the rest of my thoughts were now swirling.
Like the future Baby Northmans were swirling in my balls, just waiting for their turn to be born.
In fact, a few of them had likely just leaked out and were now lost forever in the cotton weave of my boxer briefs.
But there was more where they came from.
A lot more.
“Did I break you?” she snickered, when I hadn’t said anything.
Not out loud, anyways.
“Yeah,” I chuckled sheepishly. “I think you did.”
Having sex with Sookie hadn’t been the only thing I’d missed about being with her, but it was near the top of the list.
It was a really long list.
But seeing her amusement give way to not quite awe, but something like it, I asked, “What?”
“Nothing,” she eventually shrugged and turned her face to smile softly towards the window. And her next words were just as soft, when she said, “It’s just nice to know I still have that effect on you.”
Was she serious?
It would explain the surprise on her face, but I was more surprised by the fact she would even question the attraction I felt towards her.
The attraction I’d always felt towards her.
Maybe I could go into acting.
I seemed to have the ability to put on an Oscar worthy performance, if she hadn’t noticed my feelings for her before now.
Granted, we hadn’t spent a lot of time together over the years, until I’d moved to Louisiana. But since that time, we’d spent a fair amount of time together and I hadn’t been able to even think about any other woman but her.
No one could compare.
No one ever could.
But it proved to me that I still had a long ways to go to give her that feeling back again.
That I only had eyes for her.
That she was it for me.
But it shouldn’t be too difficult of a task because we were already halfway there.
My half of us, that is.
But we were way more than halfway to our destination and I pulled into the parking lot a few minutes later, trying to find a spot big enough to contain The Beast.
My SUV’s name.
But it was another smaller beast who bounced his way from the back row to sit directly behind us and shout, “The fair? We’re going to the fair?”
I hadn’t told either one of them where we would be going on our date, so after Hunter bounced his way out of the truck, I looked over at Sookie to see if she was okay with my choice.
It wasn’t Six Flags Over Arlington, like our first first date, but the atmosphere was sort of like it on a much smaller scale.
And even without our eight year old shadow, I had no delusions it would be anything like the R-rated version of our first first date either.
Although I would still be just as happy with a PG-rated version of that night too.
So seeing the small smile on her face, I felt like I’d done okay.
But I felt a hell of a lot more than just okay when she leaned over the console and kissed me. It was the first time she’d taken the initiative in…well…years.
For obvious reasons.
And I easily became lost in it, until she finally pulled away and said, “This is perfect Eric. It’s like the story of ‘us’ is getting a new start.”
She was right.
And so help me Christ, it was getting a new middle and ending too.
But she was also right when she said I would have to let go of the past too. Our future was ahead of us, but I would never get there if I let a part of me linger behind. So after I helped her out of the truck, I leaned down and softly kissed her lips, before lacing my fingers through hers once more and agreed out loud with her perspective on things.
“This is the beginning.”
A new beginning for us.
A fresh start.