I had no idea when I put in an offer on my little cottage that Tara Thornton was going to be my next door neighbor. Of course I remembered her. We had grown up in a relatively small town of regulars and we had attended the same schools all the way up through college. She was actually a pretty nice girl, from what I remembered. I also knew she was Eric’s best friend. She had been a real ally back when Eric and I were together. She had let me in on some insight with him and I knew she had offered him some into the way chick brains work because Eric was definitely clueless.
It hadn’t escaped me what day it was. Eric and I had been seeing each other for just under a year when his brother was killed in Iraq. It was devastating for him and his entire family. Of course I knew who Nik was. He was in my brother’s grade when we were in school and he had been a pretty awesome baseball player back in the day. I had also met him when he was home on leave between tours overseas. He was a great guy with a great sense of humor. It really was tragic that he had died so young.
When it became obvious to me that Eric’s way of dealing with his brother’s death was going to be curling up in the bottom of whatever bottle he could get his hands on, I decided it was time to go. We were young back then so I wasn’t crazy enough to think he was going to put a ring on my finger, but I had been hoping maybe… I wasn’t going to compete with whatever his drink of choice was at any given moment. I felt terrible for him and I could appreciate what he was going through, but burying all of his icky feelings in booze wasn’t helpful and I got tired of him lashing out at me all the time.
So I moved on.
In fact, I moved to southern Florida for grad school. I had a master’s degree in psychology and had recently been assigned to be the director of a daycare center in town. I liked working with young children. It probably had something to do with losing my own mother at such a young age, but I tried not to psychoanalyze myself too much. That usually didn’t work out too well.
My cell phone rang and I reached out to snatch it up quickly, hoping it was Stan calling. For the last two years Stan and I had been seeing each other. It was a pretty low key relationship because when we met, he was one of my professors. He maintained his objectivity by ensuring that all of my papers were graded by his teaching assistants. I got no special favors from him and I respected him for that. I couldn’t say for sure what it was about him that really caught my eye. He was intelligent and mature and he knew what he wanted to do with his life. It was fair to say that he was everything Eric wasn’t.
Stan had experienced a lot of the world and yes, he was older–nearly twice my age. He was a distinguished looking man, kind of like Cary Grant’s nerdy brother or something. Only his accent was Texan instead of British. Stan was originally from just outside of Dallas. His father had been in oil and his mother was a society wife. He came from money. Lots of it. I definitely didn’t, but he didn’t care about that.
I was young and ambitious, not that that was a reason why I hooked up with a professor. There was just something about Stan that made sense to me. We had good chemistry and I loved that I could pick his brain about things. He wasn’t just a lover; he was a mentor.
At the moment Stan was doing a short stint of lectures at the University of Texas’ Austin campus. He had been gone for the last three weeks and he was going to be there for the summer sessions, so we were just getting to about the halfway point. My twenty-fifth birthday was the following week and I was hoping to finalize plans to fly out to Texas to see him. While it was true that Stan and I hadn’t really had a conversation about where our relationship was headed, I had a feeling we were going to be talking about marriage in the near future. With me being done with my master’s degree, I didn’t see why we couldn’t finally have that talk. My hope was that we’d have it in Texas.
Before he left for Texas there had been talk of Stan being offered a position with a smaller, private school in Panama City but he had yet to tell me if anything official was happening with that.
Sadly, when I picked up my phone, it wasn’t my boyfriend’s face I saw on the display. It seemed a little odd to call him my ‘boyfriend’ given the age difference between us but I refused to call him my lover and they only way I was going to call him my ‘gentleman caller’ was if I suddenly turned into a sixty-year-old divorcee.
No, instead it was my ‘husband,’ my sassy gay friend Mel. Our friendship started out rather awkwardly. Originally he had a huge crush on my brother and it had been nothing short of devastating to him when Jason didn’t return his affection. I wasn’t surprised because my brother’s about as straight as a guy can get, but Mel had been hoping that it was one of those situations where a guy was trying to overcompensate so no one suspected that he was gay. That wasn’t the case at all. Mel just wasn’t his flavor and was never going to be.
I had tried to warn Jason that Mel was gay, but Jason refused to believe it. He had the stereotypical thoughts that there was no way a gay guy could be a good football player or be really into sports. They were supposed to be good at knitting, I guess. Thankfully, my brother’s views had changed.
“What’s up missy?” I answered the call.
“Not a whole hell of a lot,” he replied. “What are you up to?”
“Painting my nails and waiting for Stan to call me back,” I told him. I could hear him rolling his eyes at me from my front porch.
“I don’t know why you’re wasting your time on him, Sookie. I don’t trust him.”
“I know you don’t. You don’t trust anyone.”
“I’ve been burned too many times. I wanted to see if you want to go get lunch?”
“Lunch would be good. Where do you want to go?”
“I’ve been in the mood for some good hushpuppies. How about that southern place on Central Square.”
“Aunt Hattie’s?” They made the best hushpuppies out of anywhere, as far as I was concerned.
“Yep. Wanna meet me over there in an hour?”
“Sounds good to me. Maybe Stan will have called by then so I won’t be checking my phone constantly,” I said just to annoy him.
“I’m taking your phone and throwing it in the ocean when I see you,” he said seriously.
“No you’re not,” I scoffed. “You do that and Fifi is going nekkid.” Fifi was his beloved teacup Chihuahua who never left the house without some sort of foofy outfit on. How my brother failed to see the gay I will never understand.
Mel scoffed and said, “You’re insane. What you’re talking about is child pornography. She keeps her clothes on.”
“Honey, we have wonderful hospitals for people like you,” I laughed.
“I’ll see you in an hour.” Mel hung up on me.
Fifi was the most important thing in his life. If he could and she needed it, he’d give that dog a kidney. Other than me, she was the only female he really tolerated on a regular basis in his life.
Me: Okay, I’m starting to worry about you now. Please call me back.
I sat and stared at the text I sent to Stan, trying to will a response from him. No doubt he was busy but it was Saturday. I sincerely doubted he was lecturing on Saturday, and I really doubted he was doing it during the lunch hour.
I fanned my toes in the hopes of getting the paint to dry faster on my nails so I wouldn’t ruin them when I put my sandals on. My Greyhound/Shepherd mix I adopted six months ago by the name of Ripley was stretched out on the porch. She was such a sweetie pie that I couldn’t resist her. I had signed up to volunteer at the shelter for part of a class credit and she pretty much claimed me as her human. Stan didn’t care for her too much but that was his problem.
“You want to go met the grump for lunch?” I asked Ripley. Her ears perked up and as soon as I stood, she was on her feet too. She’d go anywhere with me. Heck, she didn’t even fight me when it was time to go to the vet or the groomer. I figured that was her way of paying me back for getting her out of the shelter.
It was a no kill shelter I’d adopted her from but I knew her early life wasn’t too much fun. The people she had been rescued from ran a puppy mill and had a nasty little dog fighting business on the side. Sick bastards. Luckily, Aunt Hattie’s was friendly to dogs as long as they stayed outside in the cafe seating and they didn’t try to jump up on tables or anything like that. Miss Fifi would probably be perched on Mel’s lap the entire time, assuming she wasn’t in some air conditioned carrying cage.
Aunt Hattie’s wasn’t a super fancy place but I couldn’t go there in pajamas either. I went into the house with Ripley right behind me. I put on a bikini and then a strapless summer dress on over it. More likely than not, Ripley and I would end up at the beach after lunch. I wound my hair up and pinned it on top of my head, and then put on sunscreen. It was too easy to get sunburn when I was at the beach. The breeze made it difficult to remember just how hot the sun really was.
My phone pinged and when I looked over I was relieved to see a message from Stan waiting for me.
Stan: Sorry. Been busy. Call you when I can.
Well that sucked. My heart sank but I shook it off so I could go meet my best friend for lunch.
Three days later it was more of the same. Stan was still too busy to talk but I couldn’t imagine he didn’t have a few minutes each day to spare.
Me: I miss you xoxo
Just in case he forgot that I did, I wanted Stan to know.
I was surprised when my phone rang in response.
“Hi you,” I smiled when I picked up. “Gosh, I miss your voice, honey.”
“I know you do, and I’m sorry I haven’t called,” he responded. “I’m sorry I don’t have good news, Sookie. I uh… I think we need to take a step back. Relationship wise.”
“Why?” I asked. “Stan, this is what we’ve been waiting for–”
“I’ve met someone else, Sookie,” he said, cutting me off.
“Someone your own age, I’m guessing?” My eyes stung with tears.
“Not quite. She’s a little younger…”
“In her thirties?” A tear slipped down my cheek.
“Twenty,” he answered. “Sookie, I’m sorry, we just click–”
“Twenty?! That’s practically child molesting!” I yelled.
I was young enough at twenty-four, but twenty? She couldn’t even legally drink at the cocktail parties he went to!
“She’s an adult, Sookie. She’s a sweet girl and we’ve been spending a lot of time together. Things happen,” he sighed.
“Like they just happened with me, right?” I sniffled. “Thanks for finally calling back, asshole.” I hung up and resisted the urge to throw my phone, even though I wanted to.
I let myself cry for a minute and when I looked up, Eric was coming out of Tara’s house. I wiped my tears off my cheeks and tried to straighten up. Eric didn’t need to see me having a meltdown. I was sure he’d just think I was nuts for getting involved with someone so much older than me. He might even be right but I didn’t want to hear it right then.
My phone rang again and it was Stan calling back.
“Fuck you!” I yelled at him and hung up. Eric stood on Tara’s porch looking amused. I growled to myself and got up to go inside.