I was under the Charger, trying to figure out what the fuck I was going to do about everything going on. Working on cars was my method of meditation and I was stressed as shit. I wasn’t prepared for anything that was happening in my life. I tried to keep it together on the outside. I felt like I was doing a pretty good job of it. I wasn’t sure if it was the baby that was bugging me anymore or if it was the fact Madi was moving out. It wasn’t something I thought I’d be facing so soon. Not that I’d be facing grandpa-hood.
I had to figure out if Madi getting pregnant so young was something I did wrong as a father or if it was the just natural progression of life. I knew the logical answer to that. I hated it either way. Josh was a good kid. I wouldn’t have been building him a car if he wasn’t. Stepping up and selling his truck so he could buy a family car was proof of that. At least Madi picked well, mostly. He would be a hell of a lot better if he wasn’t Sookie’s son.
I was trying with her. I really was. I still wasn’t sure what I thought of her or if we could be friends. I knew for the kids’ sake we had to try. I sent her the message about the car just to see if she was at all interested proving to the kids we could get along. I knew it meant a lot to them that we tried. She wasn’t my favorite person, but I didn’t hate her. I wasn’t sure I ever actually hated the woman. I did respect her. She knew what she was talking about, usually. For some weird ass reason she thought I didn’t know what I was doing when it came to cars.
I wasn’t going to worry about Sookie. I’d be around her when I had to be. Until those times I wasn’t sure I was going to try so hard. It wasn’t about Sookie anyway. It was about trying to figure out the right thing to do for Madison.
I smelled coffee, surprisingly over the smell of oil, and rolled out from under the Charger. Gracie was standing there with my World’s Best Dad mug.
“Hey, kid,” I said, sitting up on the dolly. I hadn’t had a chance to talk to her about everything going on.
“Hey. Thought you might be thirsty.”
“Thanks.” I took the coffee from her. The shop had been closed for close to an hour. I was surprised she was still around. “You doing alright?”
“Yeah, I’m okay. Madi’s over at Josh’s house.”
“You should have come to get me sooner,” I said. I took a sip of my coffee and let out a quiet groan. Gracie and I were a lot alike, including the way we liked our coffee.
“I didn’t want to bother you. I know you’re busy.”
“Not too busy to hang out with you,” I assured her. I felt like I was putting too much focus on Madi and leaving Gracie out. I didn’t like that feeling very much.
“It’s okay, Dad. I know you have a lot on your mind because of Madi. I just hate going home by myself. I’m not good at being alone,” she said.
“I’m sorry.” I knew she wasn’t. Gracie and Madi both had issues being alone. It wasn’t fair to Grace that Madison had Josh. It probably wasn’t a matter of what was fair. It was just different. “I’ll wash up and we can go have dinner, if you want.”
“We don’t have to. I can just sit here and watch what you’re doing,” Grace offered.
I stood up from the dolly and took another drink of my coffee. “I got a better idea. Come with me.”
“Oookay.” Gracie followed my lead.
I put my arm around her so we could walk out together. I didn’t want her to think I hadn’t been thinking about her. I did, all the time. She was my little peanut. She weighed a full pound less than her sister when she was born. Even though they were identical, Gracie had always been a little smaller. Height and weight-wise. She was the quieter one of the two.
When we got out to the back of the garage there was a small field with ten spots for cars that were in progress or completed. Currently there were seven that were full. The one at the end, under a cover, was the Challenger the guys had been working on for her. Gracie had her license, and the girls usually shared my truck if they wanted to go somewhere. I wanted to give her something of her own.
“You want to talk about what’s going on?” I asked as we made our way toward the car. With summer upon us it was getting dark later and later so we still had plenty of light to check out the car.
“You mean about Madi?”
“Yeah. It’s hard on me as her dad, but I imagine it’s pretty bad on you too. I’m sure you miss her just as much as I do.” She was still living at home but she spent a lot of time at Josh’s.
“I think she’s leaving because of me,” Gracie told me. “I said she was an idiot for getting pregnant so young.”
I agreed with that wholeheartedly.
“I don’t think she’s leaving because of you. She’s thinks she’s in love,” I sighed. “For the record, I’m on your side with this. I’m trying to figure out where I failed with her.”
“You didn’t. She’s in love, right?”
“I guess. I remember that feeling. It’s like the sun rises and sets out of Josh’s ass,” I sighed. “Why don’t you go pull the cover off of that car?” I pointed to the Challenger. It was primered and ready for paint. I was trying to decide on a color. I’d done some work on it when Gracie wasn’t at the shop. I wanted it to stay a surprise. I felt like it was a good time to let the cat out of the bag.
Gracie went over and pulled off the cover.
“It’s… not the prettiest girl at the dance,” she said.
“It still needs paint,” I chuckled. “The guys and I have been working on her for you, if you want it.”
“Really? Why me?” Gracie looked genuinely surprised.
“Because I love you and I know how much you love a powerful car. It was going to be for your birthday, but tonight seems a good a night as any,” I smiled.
“I do love a powerful car,” she agreed. “What color are you painting it?”
“I was going to go with Barbie pink, so the chumps on the road knew the baddest chick in town was driving her,” I smiled. “If you don’t want pink, I can go with any other color.”
“Pink’s good. Then when I whoop their butts on the quarter mile I can brag that the Barbiemobile was better,” she snorted.
“She’s running if you want to take her for a spin,” I offered. “We shouldn’t go on the main road since it still needs to go through inspection so I can get tags for it.”
“No, I can wait.”
“Okay. I want to be your first passenger.” I walked over to open the door for her so she got a better look at the black interior. I had custom made bucket seats with an N embroidered on the back. “You want me to start it up so you can hear the engine?”
I popped the hood and then pulled the keys out of my pocket. I kept a copy of it on my keyring right next to the Buick’s key. Gracie was lifting the hood when I started the Challenger up and revved the engine before I got out so we could look at it together. Cars were a good way for Gracie and me to bond.
“Listen to that baby purr,” I said. I chuckled when she noticed I had the engine block painted pink… “It’s a 340,” I said, referring to the engine size.
“I bet most of the clowns I go to school with don’t even know what that means,” she said. “I had to help a guy change a tire last week.”
“That’s my girl,” I chuckled. “Good car guys, and girls, are pretty rare these days. You interested in any boys at school?” I might as well get that out there.
“Not really. One asked me if I was a slut like my sister.”
I couldn’t help the growl that left my throat.
“Where does that little gargoyle live? I’ll fuckin’ kill him for saying that about either one of you.”
“Doesn’t matter, Dad,” she shrugged.
“Did you at least junk punch the little prick?”
“No. I let the air out of his tires. Including the spare.”
“That’s my girl,” I said proudly. I shouldn’t have been condoning that kind of behavior. It wasn’t destructive, though and the little shit deserved it. “How do you think your mom would have felt about all this?” I asked. “About Madi.”
“She wouldn’t have let Madi move out, that’s for sure,” Gracie said. “But I guess Madi living over there is good since Sookie’s been pregnant. She can answer questions you can’t.”
“I’m sure you already know I don’t like that she has a tie with Sookie. I’m not doing it for Madi, but for the baby and for Josh. If your mom and I weren’t living together when you were born I’m not sure if I would have been able to handle it. I’m also pretty sure she’ll be moving home within a year,” I admitted.
“Sookie seems nice. I don’t know why you don’t like her,” Gracie said.
“She’s always had negative things to say to me,” I shrugged. “I’ve seen her be nice to other people, and Madi says she’s nice to her. She’s just never been really nice to me and I don’t know why. I don’t know if it’s because we’re in the same business and I take business away from her, or what. For some reason that’s how it’s always been between us.” I wasn’t sure what her issue was with me. Sure, I talked shit, but that was usually to counter her. I wasn’t going to sit back and take it while someone trash talked me and my garage.
Gracie smirked and said, “Maybe she’s got a crush on you.”
I chuckled. That was nowhere near the truth. If she had a crush she could have gone about it a million different ways that were much better than being a complete bitch to me.
“You sound like Papa. He thinks we have crushes on each other,” I informed my daughter.
“Papa’s never wrong.”
“He’s wrong plenty,” I laughed. “He’s wrong in this case and so are you.” I bumped her lightly on the shoulder.
“Uh huh,” she giggled. “You should get a girlfriend. You’re too cute to end up with Stan.”
“I don’t need a girlfriend, I have my kids and my shop,” I shrugged. I’d dated a couple women since losing Aude. For some reason women had an issue with being third on my list of priorities. With the girls and my shop, no woman was ever going to be number one. Well, maybe the right woman could be bumped up to number two on my list. Aude was number two past the kids. She also supported me in everything I did. I haven’t found a woman willing to do that.
“You need a girlfriend.”
“If I had a girlfriend I probably wouldn’t be hanging out with you right now.” That was way more important than any woman.
“Maybe you wouldn’t be, but I gotta learn how to be better by myself. Madi can’t always hold my hand,” she said.
“You’re a smart girl, you know that?” I said, giving her a side hug. “I’m proud of you. I’m not sure I tell you that enough. I’m sorry I’ve had all this focus on Madi lately. It doesn’t mean you mean any less to me because it doesn’t.”
“I know, Dad. I love you too.” Gracie hugged me back.
“You ready to get out of here so we can eat?” I gave her one more little squeeze before I went to turn the car off while Gracie closed the hood.
“Yeah, let’s go.”
We took the time to put the cover back on the Challenger before we headed back into the shop so I could put my tools away and wash up.
“What do you want to eat?” I asked as I dried my hands. Gracie had walked around to make everything was locked up.
“I think it’s a brisket sandwich night, don’t you?”
“As a matter of fact I do,” I agreed. Gracie followed me out of the shop, waiting patiently as I set the alarm and locked the last door.
We walked over to the Buick so I could open the door for her. I was a lucky motherfucker when it came to my kids. Despite getting pregnant so young, Madison was a good kid. Gracie and I had a special bond, though. It had always been that way. When she was a baby and decided to throw a fit, I was the only one that could calm her down. I would wrap my strong hands around her tiny body so I could hold her close to my heart. Every time, it did the trick.
We’d get through this whole mess, hopefully intact.
“Northman,” I answered my phone without looking at the caller. I was in the shop where it tended to be a little louder. So it probably sounded like I was barking into the phone.
“Mornin’, sunshine.” I was surprised to hear Sookie’s voice. “Y’all still specialize in Dodges?”
I started to walk out of the shop toward my office so I could hear her better. I didn’t think she’d ever call me about a car.
“Yeah, why?” I made it to my office and took a seat in my comfy chair.
“Well, I happen to be standing about two feet away from a Super Bee,” she said.
“Are you calling to gloat?” I wasn’t sure. With Sookie that was likely.
“No, I’m callin’ because it’s a good find, but we don’t have the room for it and I heard through the grapevine you like to work on Dodges. If you don’t want it I can call Andrew–”
So… not to be nice, but because she didn’t have room… right.
“No, I can come check it out. Is there anyone else snooping around?”
“Nope. I’m sure you could get it for a good price. Ole boy tried selling it to me for eight grand,” she laughed. “It’s literally on the ground.”
“Does he know who you are?” I asked seriously. As much as I didn’t like to admit it, Sookie knew her shit for the most part. She also knew how to work a deal.
“He knows. He also knows we usually do Fords. I came to get a ‘56 Porsche he had in the barn,” she said.
“Where is it?” I turned to the safe to grab some cash out. If it didn’t have tires I was going to have to get a flatbed out to pick it up if I wanted it.
“I’m in a little town called Lovelady about two and a half hours south of Dallas,” she said. “I can text you the address.”
“Please. I’ll let Stan know we have a road trip to take,” I replied. “Thanks… I know you didn’t have to tip me off.”
“I know I didn’t either, but this is a beauty. She should see the light of day again.”
No comments about how subpar my work was compared to the work her guys did? Was I really talking to Sookie Stackhouse?
“Alright, I appreciate it.” I wasn’t sure what else to say to her. I was thrown off by how… nice wasn’t the word for it. Nice was the only one that came to mind though.
“You’re welcome. Don’t fuck it up like usual,” she chuckled and hung up.
That was the Sookie I knew. I set the phone on my desk and used the intercom to call Stan into the office. While I waited for him to show up I got the text from Sookie with the address.
“Sookie Stackhouse just called to let me know there’s a Super Bee in Lovelady that’s up for grabs,” I told Stan when he walked in.
“I’m sorry; I just walked into an alternate universe. Since when does the Black Widow offer you tips?”
“Your guess is as good as mine,” I shrugged. “Maybe it’s the whole co-grandparent thing we have to do.”
“It has to be. So did she send a picture of it?”
“No…” I picked up my phone again.
Me: Got a picture of it?
“If she won’t send one, I say fuck it. I don’t even know where Lovelady is, and we don’t have time for a wild goose chase,” he said.
“It’s about two hours south of Dallas.” I’d been through there before.
My phone chimed with a response from Sookie. She sent me several pictures of the Super Bee.
It was a pretty beast. I turned my phone to Stan so he could take a look.
“And she’s not buying it?”
“She doesn’t have room,” I said, giving him Sookie’s reason for calling me.
“So she called you?”
“Yeah. I’m just as shocked as you,” I admitted. “Did I tell you she had a couple beers with me over at Soup’s On last week?”
“Uh, no. What the hell did you go over there for?”
“I was hungry and she offered a free meal to the girls and me. Thought I’d check it out,” I shrugged. “The food is pretty damn good.”
Stan looked at me like I’d just slapped his mama.
“I know,” I sighed. “We also talked… and got along… kinda.”
“You… I… I’ll be in the truck,” he said, shaking his head.
“I’ll be out in a minute. I just need to grab the cash and let the girls know I’m going to be late.”
Stan waved over his shoulder as he walked out. I turned back to the safe to get the cash. Sookie and I were taking baby steps, or so it seemed. It was a start. I didn’t think we’d ever be the best of friends, but civilized co-grandparents was going to have to be good enough.