“Good morning Linda, we’re here with Sookie Stackhouse, owner of Soup’s Up, one of the hottest new restaurants here in Dallas. Thank you for having us, Sookie,” a reporter by the name of Tiffany Valdez said as she turned to me with her microphone poised.
“Good morning, thank you for stopping by,” I replied.
“So Soup’s Up has been open eight weeks now. You’re co-owner of Classy Chassis here in town as well. What made you want to branch out into the restaurant business?”
“Well I love cars, and I love food, and I love those ten years between the late fifties and early sixties. It was a great time for the auto industry, and back in those days the family dinner table was still the biggest meeting place. The restaurant gives me the chance to bring together the things I love most. Plus, you don’t have to be a car enthusiast to be able to appreciate our modern takes on classic American diner meals,” I told her.
“You’re big on nostalgia,” she commented.
“Absolutely. There was a lot of good happening at that point in America, and I like to calibrate that. Of course the restaurant also helps to promote Classy Chassis, which celebrates American history in its own way,” I said with a smile.
I was delighted and surprised when Dallas’s local news station requested the opportunity to come by for a segment on their morning show. Free publicity was something I would never turn down. Soup’s On was doing well so far, but new restaurants were always under a huge amount of pressure not to lose their luster. The most important thing was that the food was good. Good food absolutely helped ensure that our doors would stay open in the long run.
To that end, I walked Tiffany through a sampling of what our most popular dishes were so far. In a lot of ways, what we served was modernized comfort food. Salisbury steak with smashed red potatoes, brisket sandwiches and coleslaw, bacon cheddar biscuits and gravy, fried chicken and loaded potato salad… I took the meals my grandmothers had been making for me since I was a little girl, and decided to serve them to the public. So far, it was a success.
Tiffany and the camera were also treated to a quick tour of the dining room, where we had a full service bar and a little gift shop set up by the hostess area so we could promote the garage, and give people something to do if they were waiting for a table to open up. All in all, the segment went well. I hoped that it would help bring even more awareness to Soup’s On. I didn’t want either of my businesses to fail. The restaurant was a completely different animal from the shop, but I loved the challenge of it.
In the end, both businesses played to my strength, which was talking to people. I was great at reading people and socializing. By nature I was a bit of a flirt. I got that from my mom. It caused my dad quite a bit of gray hair back in my teenage years, but being able to talk to people and charm them had been invaluable in my businesses.
Tiffany and her crew departed in enough time for the staff to get ready for lunch. We weren’t open for breakfast… yet. I was considering expanding the hours, but I needed to talk to the manager about that. Sam Merlotte was running the day to day operation of the restaurant. I was there three days a week, at least for a few hours, and the rest of the time I was running around doing stuff for the garage.
“How’d it go?” Sam asked when I got back to the office.
“Great. I hope this gives us a boost.” Our numbers were good, but they could always be better.
“Oh I’m sure it will. The word of mouth has been phenomenal already,” Sam told me.
That was true.
I was seeing more and more Classy Chassis shirts around town. Our logo was a classic pinup girl with her arms up behind her head, and then the business name in front of her. “Classy chassis” was fifties slang that made a great double entendre. Soup’s On followed in that vein.
“How’s Josh doing here?” Josh, my seventeen-year-old son, was working in the back of the house as a prep cook. Since he was in high school he was only there part-time and mostly working evenings. He wanted to be a chef, so getting him into prep was the right first step.
“He’s doing good so far. He gets a little too chatty with the servers sometimes, but it’s nothing I’m prepared to make a fuss about,” Sam said.
I was relieved to hear that. Josh had inherited the flirt gene from me, so I couldn’t be too mad at him. He just needed to learn how to reel it in. My son was a popular kid. He had plenty of friends, and had already put together an impressive dating résumé. As far as kids went I had gotten pretty lucky. Josh did well in school and he wasn’t an asshole. Really, I couldn’t ask for a better kid.
“That’s good to hear.” Sam knew I wanted to know if Josh wasn’t cutting it. There were no free passes just because Mommy owned the place. He didn’t get to come in late, make up his own rules or act like he was the boss if I wasn’t there. At the restaurant he was just like any other employee, and as eligible to be shit on as anyone else.
“How’s it going at the shop? You unload that Mark VI yet?”
“Not yet. I think I might put it in an auction. It was a solid buy, but we don’t get enough walk-ins coming to the shop interested in buying a car to sell it,” I explained. I had gone to a swap meet with my dad, and of course I found the old Lincoln toward the back end of the lot. It was a beautiful pearly white coupe that looked like it had barely left the showroom, despite being more than thirty-years-old. There was less than 100,000 miles on it, for fuck’s sake.
“You’ll sell it. You could sell a cage to a lion,” Sam chuckled, and so did I. “Are you sticking around?”
“No, I have to run home to feed Opie, and then I have to go over to the shop to finish up payroll.” I manually signed every paycheck over at Classy Chassis.
“Cool. Well, then I’ll see you tomorrow,” he said.
I knew Sam had to get to work as well. I grabbed my purse out of the desk. There was a text message waiting for me from my office manager Isabel asking me to pick up some coffee creamer on my way in. Isabel and the accountant, my cousin Hadley’s husband, Remy, both had offices at the shop. Isabel answered the phones, set appointments, and oversaw the paperwork portion of the business. Honestly, she was my right hand. If she needed something I made sure she had it, whether it was coffee creamer or new pens.
I left Soup’s On so I could go across town to my house. It was a nice day outside. Not too hot yet, but it was still early. The sun was shining and I it was nice driving with the windows down.
When I pulled up the driveway I immediately saw Opie popping up in the window. He was my nine-year-old pitbull that I’d had since he was a puppy. His mother had been rescued from a dog fighting ring. She was a bait dog, who gave birth three days after her rescue. Opie was great with Josh, who was a rambunctious six-year-old when I got him. He was a lover not a fighter, that was for sure.
What I wasn’t expecting was to see my son’s car in the driveway. He should have been at school. He had a refinished 1976 Chevy C10 that he had saved money up for, for a long time. That citrus green paint was hard to miss. It was a beautiful truck.
I got out of the Zephyr was I was driving, and went to the front door. Opie was already there, tail wagging, and waiting for me to come inside.
“Hey buddy.” I reached down to pet his head and neck. “Joshua, are you home?” I called out. It was possible he got a ride with a friend or one his girlfriends. The fact that there was no answer suggested that he had gotten a ride. “You hungry, Ope?”
Of course he was.
I went to the laundry room where I had Opie’s crate set up. His food and water lived in there too. Opie didn’t need to be locked up in his crate, but sometimes when I had a lot of company coming over I’d crate him. He got a little too excited to have so many new friends to meet.
My phone rang in my pocket. I didn’t recognize the number that was calling so I let it go to voicemail. If it was important, they’d leave a message.
Usually I took Opie to the shop with me, but I was probably going to be going to look at a new car Tray was interested in. My partner at Classy Chassis was also the most amazing mechanic I’d ever had the privilege of working with. I met Tray at a car show when I was Josh’s age. The guy I was dating at the time thought his ‘89 Mustang was hot shit.
It was, but not in the good way.
Tray could mentally take apart a car and put it back together down to every nut and bolt, which was nothing short of amazing. He had great vision, and his knowledge of cars was just incomparable. I was lucky that he chose to go into business with me, because he could have had a brilliant career all on his own. If he was more of a people person, he probably would have. Working with me, however, he just had to worry about fixing cars. I took care of everything else.
Well, okay, I took care of delegating to everyone else.
I didn’t have an off switch. Running two successful businesses meant there wasn’t a whole lot of down time. I ran upstairs to my bedroom to ditch the pumps I’d worn for the TV appearance, and swapped them out for a comfortable pair of boots that I wore pretty often. I stuck with the same black tank top, but I put a belt on, as well as a necklace that Josh had given me for Christmas the year before. It was one of those layered deals with various pendants on it, all in a Native American theme.
Once I got my hair fixed the way I wanted it, I went back downstairs to let Opie outside so he could potty. My phone buzzed in my back pocket, letting me know I had a message. I pulled the phone out, curious about who had called me. It was possible it was someone calling about one of the cars for sale, but I didn’t post my cell phone number for inquiries. The few hours I did get to sleep, I didn’t want to spend them being interrupted by random phone calls about the cars we were trying to sell.
I dialed into my voicemail and put the phone on speaker. Opie brought me one of his toys so I could throw it for him, which I did.
“Hello, this message is for Ms. Stackhouse. This is Annie Wilkes in the attendance office at Thomas Jefferson High School. I’m calling to inform you that Joshua Stackhouse has not been in his first three classes this morning. Please call us back and let us know if we should be expecting Joshua in class today. We can be reached at…”
My son wasn’t in school? Where the hell was he? I saved the message so I could make the call just as soon as I tracked down my kid and figured out why the hell he’d cut class.
As soon as I hung up I started calling Josh. It wasn’t like him to just blow off class. In fact, as far as I knew, he’d never done it before. I would have gotten a phone call from the school. It wasn’t a surprise to me that he didn’t answer his phone. Rather than leaving him a pissed off voicemail he could claim he never got, I sent him a text.
Me: The school just called me. Why aren’t you there?
I was pretty sure that text was going to go unanswered as well, but at least I was trying to get a hold of my son.
Opie brought back the toy so I threw it again for him, hoping that Joshua would respond. As far as I knew, he was between girlfriends at the moment. Maybe one of his knucklehead buddies had talked him into skipping school to go fishing or to a baseball game or some bullshit. The school year was coming to a close in the next two months, so maybe they were blowing off some steam. All he had to do was tell me he needed a mental health day and I would have let Josh take a day off. He didn’t do that kind of stuff regularly, so I had no problem letting him stay home for no good reason once in a while.
If anyone knew about needing a day to just veg out on the couch and be a slug, it was me.
After ten minutes went by I called Josh again, and that time I left a message.
“Look, I don’t know where you are but you’re not in school where you should be. Please don’t make me worry about you. If you’re just blowing off steam, please let me know so I can call the attendance lady so they don’t think I’m a shit mom over there. Love you,” I said before hanging up.
As much as I would have loved to hang around the house all day to wait for him, I couldn’t do that. I got Opie settled in the house, and then I headed out to pick up the creamer for Isabel. I had a long day ahead of me.
Being a single parent wasn’t easy. Josh’s dad wasn’t really in the picture, and hadn’t been for the majority of our son’s life. Getting pregnant at nineteen wasn’t really part of my plan, but that was the way life worked out for me. At the time I was young, naive, and assbackwards in love with Ben Flynn. Back then I thought the sun rose and set on him. I had all these stars in my eyes over the idea of us having a baby together. My father had tried to warn me that I was romanticizing my situation, but of course I didn’t listen to that.
Why would I?
I thought I knew everything then. I was pregnant, in love, and Ben had asked me to marry him. How could anything in my life possibly go wrong? I was just barely showing when Ben and I got married in my grandmother’s backyard. In truth, we had no business getting married. For as unconventional as I was, there was still some traditionalist in me, and it demanded that I marry my baby’s father. It was a mistake, though. It wasn’t long before I discovered Ben was cheating on me.
At first I let it slide because I was pregnant, and focusing on the birth was more important to me than picking a fight with Ben. Of course that sent a message to him that it didn’t matter if he was fucking other women on the side, so it just continued after Joshua was born. I put up with it for just over two years before I called it quits. Ben wasn’t ready to be faithful and frankly, I wasn’t really ready to be married either.
I lost track of how many girlfriends Ben had over the years, but whenever he had one she always took priority over his son. The only girlfriend of his that ever really wanted Josh in the picture had insisted that he call her Mommy Katie. When I found out I flipped my shit, and for damn good reason. Ben hadn’t been seeing her for even four months when that crap started, and I knew it was just going to get worse. It was no surprise when Ben broke up with Katie and she turned out to be a level 35 clinger who he ended up filing a restraining order against. That crazy bitch had even shown up at Josh’s school, claiming to be me so she could pick him up.
It wasn’t easy being a single mom, but it was infinitely better than trying to drag Ben along with me if being a father wasn’t really what he wanted. He came around when it was convenient for him. It was completely unfair to Joshua. Thankfully, he was at the age where he could choose for himself what he wanted to do. If he wanted a relationship with his dad, he could pursue it. If he didn’t want that, I wouldn’t try to force it. Ben was just going to have to deal with the consequences of his choices.
By the time I got to Classy Chassis it was after lunchtime. The bay doors were all up and the ‘64 Ford Galaxie Tray had been working on was finally out of paint. He had gone traditional with it and painted it glacier blue. I parked the Zephyr in my marked spot off to the side and walked over to the garage to check out how things were going. I smiled when I saw that the seats were back from the upholsterers. Beautiful white leather bucket seats with white stitching were sitting off to the side by the bins with all of the parts for the car.
“How’s it going?” I asked Tray, who was under the hood. As I got closer I realized they already had the motor in.
“A lot better now. Had a little hiccup gettin’ the motor in, but she’s good now.”
“Good. The paint looks… it’s sweet,” I told him. “When did the seats get here?” I’d left the shop early yesterday to prep for the news segment that morning.
“Just before closing last night. I wanted to get all the engine work done before we get the seats in,” he answered.
“Hey man, you know I’m not going to tell you what order to get shit done in. We looking like we’re on schedule with this?” The deadline to finish it wasn’t firm, but neither of us wanted to leave it just lying around to finish. If we did, it meant taking up a lot of space we didn’t have. Plus, it was money that we weren’t making, which defeated the whole point of flipping the car to begin with.
“Yeah, we might even get done early.” Tray stood up and started wiping his hands on a rag.
“Sweet. Think you got time to go check out that Ford?” He’d found a 1941 Ford Coupe that was practically his dream project. It was a little rusty and was definitely going to need all new everything, but the body was in decent enough shape.
“You want me to check it out today?”
“I don’t want to miss out on it. You know if those turds over at S&E Classics find out, they’ll snatch it up just to be a pain in your dick,” I pointed out. We had some rivals across town who were constantly trying to upstage us. Too bad their shop was run by an arrogant wanker with no vision.
“Good point. Once I’m done here I’ll go check it out,” he said.
“I’ll go with you. I’m the one with the cash,” I replied. I knew he liked to go alone but unless he happened to have a few grand in cash available to him, that was going to be a problem.
“I’ll let you know as soon as I’m ready,” Tray agreed.
“Sounds good. I’ll be around,” I said before turning toward the offices.
Isabel was in her office, as I expected, and I stuck my head in.
“Sweets for my sweet,” I said, presenting her with the special creamer I knew she liked, in addition to some of the basic half and half that we kept on hand for the guys and the few customers who might want a cup of coffee.
“You’re the best,” she grinned. “I didn’t want to stop after work.”
“Don’t worry about it. You need a fresh cup of coffee?” I sure as shit needed one. I’d been up since about four that morning and I didn’t get to bed until just before one.
And my kid still hadn’t called or replied to my text so I was going to strangle him whenever he finally showed his ass at the house.
“I can always use a fresh cup of coffee,” she chuckled. “You’ve met me.”
“Josh hasn’t been by here today, has he?” Isabel followed me to the breakroom. I put the half and half in the fridge before getting my jumbo mug down from the cabinet where it lived.
“No, he should be at school, shouldn’t he?”
“Yep, but the school called to say he’d blown off his first three classes. He’s not answering his phone, and it’s not like him to blow off school or not answer his phone.” She knew he was a good kid. I was proud as hell of him. This was highly unusual.
“No it’s not. Should we call the police? Think he got into some trouble?”
“His truck is at the house, so at first I thought he caught a ride with a friend or a girlfriend. There was nothing weird at the house to make me think someone tried to kidnap him or something crazy like that. If I don’t see him by dinnertime, I’ll start making phone calls to other people,” I said. I wanted to give him the benefit of the doubt before I involved the police. Josh wasn’t the type to run away, so something had to have happened, but I didn’t want to think it was anything too serious.
“How many times have you called him? You know I’d be driving around town trying to stalk his little butt,” she chuckled.
“I’ve called twice and sent a text.” I poured coffee into my mug, and added some raw cane sugar to it.
“Want me to call? Maybe he– Does he have any new girlfriends?”
“If he does, he hasn’t told me about her. Either she’s not permanent or he really likes her.” So far, I had only met one of his girlfriends and it was only because he wasn’t driving at the time so it was up to me to haul them around town between work obligations. I was so glad the kid could drive. It made my life so much simpler.
“Hmm, well it could be a girl. He’s at that age where girls make boys do dumb shit,” she said.
“Probably. I figured he decided to blow of school to go fishing or some shit with the boys. You know what happens when a bunch of teenage boys get dumb ideas in their minds. I just figured he’d tell me he wasn’t going to school so I could call him in.”
“Maybe it was last second?”
“I hope so, or I’ll be whooping his butt when he gets home,” I laughed. We both knew that wasn’t true. That wasn’t my style and never had been.
“He’ll turn up with a good reason,” she assured me.
I sure hoped that was true. If it wasn’t Josh and I were going to have a really big problem. I didn’t like having problems with my kid. I had enough problems already with the businesses without having them at home, too.
I got my coffee and went back to my office to get some paperwork done while I waited for Tray to come and get me. Hopefully that Ford was still available when we got there.