I whisked the gravy that was simmering on the stove. The turkey breast was resting on a cutting board behind me. I had to finish mashing the potatoes, and get the broccoli bake and stuffing out of the oven. My sudden craving for Thanksgiving dinner in the middle of summer took me by surprise. It was a lot of work, but the leftovers would feed the kids a few meals. Plus Madi had let it slip that she missed having her mom’s corn pudding, so I had Josh get me the recipe from Gracie.
Eric came out of the bedroom all cleaned up and freshly showered.
“I hope you’re hungry,” I said. I moved over to the big pot of potatoes that had a stick of butter melting in there while they waited for mashing.
“I’m starving,” he answered. “The smell in here isn’t helping much. It smells amazing. Need any help?”
“You can take the stuffing and broccoli out of the oven. Oh, or you could get the girls and see if they want to join us.”
“I can do both.” He grabbed the pot holder sitting on the counter before he walked over to the oven to get the food out. Once he set everything on the counter he patted my ass on his way out of the house to get the girls.
I couldn’t even try to rationalize why I’d had sex with him again. It obviously wasn’t in the plan. I invited him for dinner because I knew he and Josh had been working hard all day. Even if I wasn’t always his biggest fan, I couldn’t let him go home to sad leftovers in that art gallery he called a house.
It made me happy to see Eric and his girls come across the lawn. Opie and Thor came in with them, probably sick of being out in the heat when there was air conditioning to soak up.
I got down plates for the four of us and set them on the counter so everyone could serve themselves.
“Eat up, everyone.” I pulled the foil off the turkey breast, and reached for the carving utensils so I could cut slices for everyone.
“It smells really good, Sookie,” Gracie said as she and her twin approached the kitchen.
“Thank you. There’s plenty, so help yourselves.” The special pudding was in a covered casserole dish at the end of the counter.
Eric stood back to wait for the girls to eat. As soon as Madi found the corn pudding she burst into tears. She surprised me when she walked over to give me a tight hug. She didn’t hug or touch me very often.
“Thank you, Sookie,” she sniffled.
“You’re welcome, honey.” I rubbed her back. Madi never complained about it in front of me, but I knew how much I missed having my mother’s support. She was choosing not to give it, so it wasn’t nearly the same as what Madi was going through. No way could I ever replace what she had lost, but being a mom myself, I wanted to try to fill the void a little if I could.
“I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to cry all over you,” she said as she pulled back, wiping under her eyes. “There’s so many good things today I can’t seem to stop. The only thing missing right now is Josh.”
I smiled and handed her a napkin.
“Trix cereal commercials made me cry when I was pregnant. I felt so bad for the poor rabbit,” I confessed. I understood unexpected outbursts or tears for no apparent reason. “And I’m sure there will be leftovers for Josh. You can make him a plate if you want.”
“I probably will,” she nodded. She looked back at Eric. “Daddy, are you going to eat?”
“Of course, I’m waiting on you girls to get your food. You too, Sookie.”
I let the twins dish up first. They took their plates to the kitchen table. Gracie scooted around on the bench while Madi took a chair. I picked up a plate to start dishing up my own supper. Eric grabbed the remaining plate to do the same.
“Can I get you girls something to drink?” I asked as I brought my full plate to the table. I claimed a seat on the bench so Eric could have the chair next to Madi.
“Water is fine,” Madi said.
“Sookie, sit, I’ll get it,” Eric offered.
“Thanks. Glasses are above the dishwasher.” I grabbed my iced tea from the island, and then took my seat. “I hope I got the pudding right. I never made it before.”
Madi took a tentative bite. Her eyes rolled back in her head.
“Perfect,” she promised.
I heard Eric moving around the kitchen getting drinks for the girls and himself.
“Good,” I smiled. I was happy to be able to give her something of her mom back.
I cut my turkey and dipped in my gravy well before taking my first bite. Eric’s plate made me laugh when he came to the table.
“Geez, Dad, hungry much?” Gracie laughed at the mountain range covering his plate.
“I’m starving. I haven’t eaten since noon,” he chuckled. “Plus this smells like heaven.”
“You would say that if you ate an hour ago,” Gracie pointed out.
“It’s a good thing there’s plenty of food,” I said.
“Thanks, Sookie,” Eric smiled. He set Madi’s water in front of her and then went back to get Gracie a glass as well as a beer for himself. When he sat down he looked down at his plate for a few seconds before deciding where to dig in. He started with the turkey.
I could have eaten all of the stuffing myself. It was my favorite part of Thanksgiving dinner. The noises Eric was making let me know he wasn’t disappointed with anything on his plate. I blamed the southern homemaker who lived deep inside me for preening a little at that. Josh was an easy to please kid, so if I made him Hot Pockets after a long day he was thrilled. Making a big dinner like the one we were eating didn’t happen often, and I was sorry Josh had to miss it.
“Everything okay?” I asked Eric anyway about halfway through his plate.
“It’s perfect,” he answered after swallowing. “This is pretty damn close to Aude’s corn pudding. It’s delicious.”
“Gracie was sweet enough to share the recipe with me,” I informed him.
“Mom’s had a little more butter, but this is pretty good,” Gracie agreed.
“Thank you. I’m glad I got it right.” It would have been awful if I had completely fucked it up when it was something special Aude used to make. “Do you girls have plans tonight?”
“Not really, we stayed pretty busy today so we’ll probably just hang out and watch TV tonight,” Madi answered.
“That’s not a bad idea. It’s so hot outside I can’t blame you for staying in.” I took another bite of the broccoli that was Josh’s favorite. Broccoli florets baked with layers of butter, crushed Ritz crackers and Velveeta cheese. It was the only way I could get him to eat broccoli as a kid.
“I may go home and go for a swim,” Eric said. “It’s a good night for a beer by the pool.”
“You should stick around, Daddy,” Madison said. “I don’t like it when you’re home alone.”
“I’ll be fine,” he promised. “I don’t want to be in your hair and I’m sure Sookie doesn’t want to hang out with me.”
“Oh, I’m just going to clean up this mess and then I think I’ll go for a long drive,” I said. “There’s a pretty Stingray at the garage just dying to be taken out.”
“See,” Eric said. “I’ll be fine. Thor will do a good job of keeping me company.”
“You could go together for a ride. Dad likes old Corvettes,” Gracie said.
Eric chuckled and said, “I’m sure Sookie doesn’t want me tagging along.”
“Well, I wouldn’t mind you checking it out if you’re interested. She’s cherry red with the original motor,” I told him.
“I definitely need to see that,” he said seriously. “It’s rare to see original motors in anything these days.”
“She’s a ‘62.” That made her original motor even more rare.
“You don’t think the rumor mill will start to blow if we’re seen hanging out together?”
I shrugged and said, “People talk no matter what.”
“Wait, were those rumors true?” Gracie looked from her dad to me.
The kids heard it? Fucking Stan…
“No,” Eric lied smoothly. “That was your uncle being a jerk. You know how rumors spread and get all contorted to be something else.”
The twins looked at each other and I could only imagine what that must have meant.
I got up from the table to get some more gravy, and when I came back both girls were smiling. They were definitely thinking something they weren’t willing to say out loud.
“You girls can come too if you want to see the car,” I offered.
“Oh, no, we’ll stay here. I’m tired,” Madi said followed by a fake yawn.
“We’ll dogsit so Opie and Thor don’t get lonely,” Gracie added.
I had the distinct feeling they were onto us, and the look on Eric’s face told me they weren’t fooling him either.
“Here she is,” I said as I pulled the cover off of the Stingray. She had a little sparkle mixed in the cherry red paint job we’d had done. It was a convertible with a brand new black interior.
“She’s gorgeous.” Eric walked around to check out the paint job. “Do I get to drive her?”
“Would you like to?” That was probably a stupid question.
The look he gave me confirmed that fact.
“Of course I want to,” he chuckled. “I’m going to pop the hood.”
“Go for it. I’ll go get the key.” I turned and headed for the office. The keys for all of the cars were labeled and locked up.
I found the Corvette key, and grabbed the key for the ‘68 Cobra that was out there too. It was hard to miss being bright yellow with black racing stripes. On my way out I made sure to lock up the office. I found Eric under the hood of the Stingray, checking things out.
“Catch,” I said, and tossed him the key.
It seemed crazy to trust him, but I knew even if I wasn’t his favorite person, he respected what a beautiful piece of machinery the Corvette was.
Eric caught the keys and slid into the car. I saw a slow smile spread across his handsome face as the engine came to life. He revved the engine a few times, listening to her purr.
“Your kind of lady, huh?” I put the hood down for him.
“Oh yes.” He motioned for me to come over to the driver side where he had the door open.
I walked over and stood beside him.
“If you want to take her out, go ahead,” I told him.
He made me squeak when he hooked me around the waist so he could pull me onto his lap.
“You’re not coming with me?” His big hand rubbed up and down my leg.
“I can if that’s what you want.”
“I wouldn’t mind it. Thank you for earlier,” he said. “That meant a lot to Madi, making her mother’s pudding.”
I smiled and said, “I’m sure it’s hard going through this without her mom around. It’s not a big thing, but it’s something.”
“Did they tell you they’re naming her Audrey?” His hand moved up and around my hip.
“No.” I shook my head. “That’s sweet, though. It’s a beautiful name.”
“She gets your middle name,” he informed me. “This is… it’s hard not having her here to experience it with me.”
I never thought about how Eric was coping without his wife. It never occurred to me that he might have missed having her there to support him as well.
“How would she feel about all this?” I asked.
“After kicking herself for failing as a mother she would have been very happy and supportive. She would have liked Josh, and probably would have dealt with all this a lot more gracefully than I have.”
“There’s no guide book for any of this. I always do the best I can with what I have.” When Josh was doing something I perceived to be a mistake or if I thought it was a disaster, I tried to see it through his eyes. Sure I could yell and scream about what a mistake he made but what was the point? What was done was done. Helping him figure out the next step was more productive.
“I try to approach it as “What would Aude do?” It seems to be working so far.”
“That’s logical.” I shifted so I was off his lap and nestled into the passenger’s seat. “I have to lock the gate when we pull out.”
Eric shifted into first gear and started to slowly pull out of the parking spot we were in.
“You and Aude would have gotten along,” he said absently.
I wasn’t sure if that was supposed to mean something, but I decided to take it as a compliment.
“You and Ben would not,” I laughed. I popped up and out of the Corvette once Eric drove through the gate. I pulled it back into place and padlocked it shut. I got back in the car next to him. “If you do a burnout back here no one will know.”
“I normally wouldn’t do a burnout in a Corvette, but…” He pulled forward a little before the wheels started to turn and the car was quickly engulfed in cloud of smoke.
He looked like a little kid at Christmas.
All of a sudden the car shot forward, with Eric laughing like a maniac.
“Worth it?” I asked as he sped away from the shop.
“Always,” he laughed. “That will never get old.”
“Donuts are fun too,” I admitted. They were easy to do in a nearby gravel parking lot, but I had a feeling Eric was more interested in hitting the highway.
“I’ll take you out for a spin in the Charger when I’m done with it for donuts,” he smiled. He slowed to look both ways before he made a left onto the street that led to the garage. Sure enough, within seconds Eric had skirted through all the gears until he was flying down the street. He was in complete control of what he was doing and had the confidence to back it up. Eric finally looked relaxed and at home.
I reached out to turn on the radio. I turned the dial until the local rock station came in clear. Boston poured out of the speakers. We could have upgraded the sound system, but I liked keeping things classic that way unless we were doing a custom build for someone.
I didn’t want to think about how relaxed I felt too. It didn’t feel weird being together, and I didn’t care what anyone said if they saw us together. Tray’s opinion of who I slept with wasn’t what bothered me; it was that he felt he was entitled to one. Or maybe that he felt like it was acceptable to act like I’d offended him by doing what I’d done. It never occurred to me that it would be that big of a deal to him. I couldn’t let anyone else’s thoughts dictate my choices. It wasn’t my style to let someone else be a shot caller in my life.
Lord knew I never had been in the past.
Eric steered us onto the highway and promptly floored it.
“This feels good,” he commented. “This is the best place to let everything go, you know?”
“Long drives are my therapy,” I confirmed. “I was so grateful when Josh got big enough to let him be home alone. There were times I’d sneak out after midnight…” I trailed off thinking back to a few of the drives I took. I didn’t need to be telling Eric that stuff.
“I’ve spent my share of time on midnight drives,” he nodded. “They are great therapy. I definitely need it more often than not.”
“Especially lately,” I said quietly. I wasn’t sure if he heard it.
“Yeah.” He heard me.
I told myself that we were out together because it would make the kids happy to know we were getting along. It had nothing to do with the flowers he’d sent or the quickies we were sneaking. Madi would be happy that her dad wasn’t sitting home alone for a change. I was just being nice. That was all.
Eric headed southwest towards hill country. I lost track of how long we were on the road. He only got off the highway because we needed to stop for gas. The mileage wasn’t that great. Fuel economy wasn’t as advanced back in the early ‘60s, I supposed. When he pulled up to a pump I got out to put my credit card in the reader.
“I think I’m going to go inside for some ice cream. You want some?” I offered.
“Sure. I’ll move the car out of the way after I fill it up.”
“What do you want? Cone, ice cream sandwich, Snickers…”
“Ice cream sandwich would be good. I’m not real picky when it comes to ice cream.”
“Then it’ll be a surprise.” I turned and headed for the little convenience store.
I expected to find some little cubby thing I’d have to reach into to grab my choice of frozen treat, but we happened to stop at the place with a soft serve machine. Jackpot.
I grabbed two large cups and since I didn’t know Eric’s preference, I got us both the chocolate and vanilla swirl. I sprinkled some crushed Oreos on his and some chopped peanuts on mine. I grabbed each of us a bottle of water, and headed to the register to pay for everything. Eric was pulled up out front when I walked out of the store.
“I hope you like Oreos.” I handed him his cup full of ice cream.
“I love Oreos,” he grinned. “Thanks.”
“You’re welcome. I got you some water, too.” The wind was nice, but it was still hot outside even with the sun mostly gone.
“You’re a doll. I only drink water with ice cream,” he informed me. “I feel like I just get thirstier if I drink anything else.”
“I got it since it’s hotter than the devil’s left nut,” I chuckled, and walked around the car to get in on the other side.
“Are you from Texas?” he asked before he took a bite of his ice cream.
“Just curious,” he shrugged. “Tryin’ to get to know you.”
“Are you from Texas?”
“I was born in Louisiana. We moved here when I was four right before I started school. That was when I met Stan.”
“I see.” I took a bite of my ice cream. “My dad’s from Louisiana.”
“I’ve been back a few times. My grandparents lived there when they were alive. I haven’t been back in almost a decade. That’s where my mother is buried on her request,” he told me.
“I’m sorry you lost her,” I replied.
“Thanks. It’s been just over twelve years. I still want to call her sometimes to ask for help with the girls.”
“I can understand why.” I wasn’t going to bring up my hot mess of a mom. Eric really didn’t need to know what a festering cunt she was.
“Madi says you guys don’t talk to your mom much. Is your dad still married to her?”
“He is,” I nodded.
“You clearly don’t want to talk about her,” he chuckled.
“I have nothing nice to say about her. She considers my son a bastard and an abomination. She can rot in hell.” That was being nice, in my opinion.
“She’ll have the sperm donor as company,” Eric said. “I apologized to Josh about making him think I thought he was a deadbeat. I know he will never be a deadbeat.”
“He told me before he left. That… With a dad like his, that really bothered him,” I told Eric. “The kid is killing himself to make things as good as he can for everybody. He’s already a million times more responsible than his father. He hasn’t asked me for a dime for anything, and he’s not getting any special favors at work by being my son. I am so proud of that kid. It makes me think I did something right. I love my businesses and I’m proud of that too, but Josh… I always told myself that he was the one thing that I couldn’t mess up.”
“You did a pretty damn good job on him,” Eric complimented. “I forced him to take a nap before work. I can see how tired he is.”
“He’s working like twenty hours a day. He’s refusing to slow down,” I sighed.
“He’s going to wear himself out soon,” Eric predicted.
“Oh I know. I keep telling him that but I’m just mom, what do I know?”
“Right,” he chuckled. “Hopefully he burns out before he hurts himself.”
“I’d prefer he just slowed his roll altogether.”
“I know. I’m sure Madi does too.”
“She worries,” I agreed. I knew she got lonely too. She didn’t want to be home alone all the time. It wasn’t fair to her.
“I know. I worry too, about both of them,” he said.
“I think they’ll be okay. They have to find their balance is all.”
“They will, especially if Madi threatens to move out if he doesn’t slow down.”
“A girl’s gotta do what a girl’s gotta do. She might be able to reach him better than me at this point.” I hated to admit that, but it was true.
“Boys do crazier things for love.” He took a bite of his ice cream before scooping up a bite of cookies to offer to me.
“No, thanks, I’m good. I shouldn’t even be eating this after the dinner I ate.”
“Why not? It’s a great follow up to dinner.”
“It is, but I’m still pretty full,” I laughed.
“Ice cream just melts down around and fills up the empty space,” he chuckled. “It’s perfect.”
“You know what ‘full’ means, right?” I snickered.
“You’re never really that full,” he winked.
“How do you know?”
“Because no matter how full I’ve ever been there’s always been room for ice cream.”
“For you, maybe.”
“Crazy lady,” he snorted as he shook his head.
“You can have all the ice cream you want.”
“This is good.”
We went quiet while we finished our ice cream. About three-quarters of the way through a horrifying idea occurred to me. What if Eric thought we were on a date? We weren’t, but maybe he thought so. I wasn’t going to mention it, though. If the idea wasn’t in his head I wasn’t going to put it there. I just wanted to finish my ice cream head back home.