“What do you think?” I asked Stan as we stood back and admired the Charger. I’d completed it the night before after we closed. It was early on a Friday morning. I was planning to deliver it to the kids on Sunday. The final product was eggplant purple, one of Josh and Madi’s favorite colors. All black interior and a black engine block. I wanted to make sure they could transport Audrey so I made sure to install seatbelts in the backseat that were up to modern day code.
“Looks good. The girls’ll love it.”
“This isn’t for the girls, It’s for Josh and Madi,” I told him. “Josh sold his truck when they found out Madi was pregnant so he could buy something more family friendly. I wanted them to both have a car so… this is it. Gracie gets the Challenger all to herself.”
“Well, then Madi will love it.”
“Madi’s going to shit a brick when I pull up in this thing,” I laughed. She wasn’t going to think it was safe enough at first. As soon as I explained I made sure it was Audrey safe she would be okay. I hoped. “What scares me is that Josh has been working himself to death for the last few months trying to make sure he can support Madi and the baby. Last I heard he had just over $35,000 saved up.”
“Holy shit, really?” Stan looked impressed. “At least she’s got a good one helping her raise the kid.”
“He is a good kid. She’s on the verge of moving home though. Josh works so much she barely sees him. It’s strange listening to her adult problems at such a young age.” I walked over to the driver side so I could pop the hood. Stan used to work on cars, but he really didn’t give a shit about what was under the hood. He generally humored me.
“You mean the dragon lady doesn’t entertain her?” he snorted.
“Madi is keeping her distance for some reason. I know she likes Sookie, but I think she’s scared to get too close,” I said, ignoring the dragon lady comment. Sookie and I had fooled around one other time since our late night drive. We weren’t at each other’s throats but we weren’t exactly friends yet. Part of me felt like Madi didn’t want me to be upset with her if she did things with Sookie. I wouldn’t have been upset at all.
“Maybe she thinks you’d be mad or something,” he suggested. “Or she’s worried Grace would be.”
“Could be. Those little shits think they know something,” I snorted. “About a month ago Sookie made dinner for us. They asked if that fuckin’ rumor you started was true and when I denied it, they didn’t buy it. They’ve been trying to find ways to get me and Sookie alone since.” It only worked one other time since the night drive in the Stingray.
“I thought you wanted to be alone with her?”
“I’m slowly wearing her down. Sookie isn’t the type you can be forceful with.”
“Clearly. Maybe you’ll share a suite in the old folks home,” he joked.
“You know, you’re lucky I don’t junk punch you more often,” I said seriously.
“It’s not my fault you’re moving slower than molasses.”
“It’ll be worth it,” I shrugged. I dropped the hood and went around to pull the keys from the ignition. As soon as I closed the door my phone started to ring. It was Madi’s ringtone. She never called me so early. “Hey, Princess,” I answered.
“Daddy?” Madi was sniffling and I could tell she was very upset about something.
“What’s wrong, baby?” I didn’t like to get calls from my crying daughter. I started walking toward the Buick. If she was calling and upset I was going to wherever she was.
“Josh… Josh…” She started sobbing. The phone transferred hands.
“Josh was in an accident, Dad,” Gracie told me. “He’s having emergency surgery right now.”
“Do you have any other details than that? Do you know how the accident happened?” The fact that they lost their mother in a car accident probably wasn’t helping much.
“I don’t know, Dad. Sookie’s here of course but she’s a mess, and since Josh was unconscious, no one seems to know for sure what happened.”
“Was anyone else hurt in the accident that you know of?” Stan’s ears perked up. I motioned to him that I was leaving. He knew I’d tell him later what happened.
“Dad, I don’t know,” she said with exasperation.
“I know, I’m sorry. I’ll be there in as soon as possible,” I promised. “Do you girls need me to bring anything?”
“Okay. I’ll be there soon.” I hung up as I got into the Buick. I tossed my phone into the cup holder and started up the car. I wasn’t sure what the hell happened, but I had a bad feeling about it. Josh was a good kid. Madi needed him to be around.
I walked straight into the emergency room at Parkland Hospital. It didn’t long to locate the crying pregnant teen and the worried mom. Gracie had her arms around Madi and poor Sookie was sitting in the chair next to them shaking a little. I raced over to where they were sitting. Madi jumped up from her seat to wrap her arms tight around my middle.
“I’m here,” I said quietly, rubbing her back as I hugged her. I noticed Gracie moved over to try to comfort Sookie.
“I’m so scared, Daddy,” Madi said through her tears.
“I know you are.” I was scared too. I knew what it felt like to get that phone call. “He’s a strong boy, Mads, he’s going to be fine.” I brought my hand up to cradle the back of her head. She felt so small. She was my little princess and seeing her like that was never fun.
She held onto me tightly while she cried. Sookie sat a few feet away, pale as a ghost and not wiping the tears off her cheeks. It was hard to say if she was even hearing whatever Gracie was saying to her.
I wanted to hug her too. I didn’t want to let Madison go, though. I didn’t know if she’d called her dad or brother. It was obvious in this I was going to have to be the strong one. I’d been in their shoes, so I knew it was going to be different for both of them. I just hoped like hell Josh was going to be okay. I couldn’t handle to see any of the girls in front of me fall apart.
“Do you want to sit down?” I asked Madi quietly. I wasn’t going to let her go if she didn’t want me to.
She nodded and said, “I almost fainted when I found out about the accident. Her brother brought us here.”
“Have you called your doctor? Is everything okay with the baby?” The baby felt everything she felt so I was sure poor Audrey was having a rough time too.
“She’s moving around like normal, so I think I’m okay,” Madi said as she sat down.
“Good. I still want you to make a wellness appointment after all this over,” I told her.
I walked over to where Sookie was sitting and knelt down in front of her. I didn’t know where her brother was, but she shouldn’t have been alone. Without a word I wrapped my arms around her, holding her in a tight hug. If she pushed me away, so be it. I was going to try to help in any way I could.
“Thank you for coming,” she whispered, like she was thanking me for coming to a Tupperware party.
“There’s nowhere else I could be right now,” I assured her quietly. “I have everything under control, Sookie. It’s okay to let go.” I wasn’t sure she would but I wanted her to know I was perfectly capable of taking charge.
She laughed, which wasn’t the reaction I was expecting.
Sookie pulled away and said, “You have nothing under control, Eric. The surgeons can’t even guarantee me that my son will wake up, so unless you have some divine power none of us know about, you control nothing.”
I wasn’t talking about Josh or the surgery he was in, but it wasn’t the time to argue with Sookie. She found fault in everything I did or said no matter what it was.
“I’ll be here if you need me for anything.” I got up from where I was and walked over to the other side of Madi, getting as far away as possible from Sookie. I was sure I was going to end up being the punching bag if Josh didn’t make it. I’d dealt with worse.
I wrapped my arm around Madi again. Gracie got up to come out to my other side. I knew it was rough on her seeing Madi so torn up. Sookie’s brother came out from the treatment area and took a seat beside his sister. He was talking to her, but I couldn’t make out what he was saying. A short while later, Hadley arrived with a little boy that must have been her son.
I wasn’t too sure what to do, if anything, so I sat there quietly while the Stackhouse clan talked. Hadley’s boy kept looking over at the girls. He was old enough to have seen twins before but he still seemed pretty intrigued by them. Madi was still crying uncontrollably. I knew there wasn’t much I could do about that. She needed to hear Josh was going to be okay. That was the only thing that would make everything better for everyone.
A while later a doctor came out from the back asking for the parents of Joshua Flynn. Sookie shot up like a rocket, as did Madison and everyone else sitting there. I walked up with Madi, giving her any support she might need. The doctor didn’t have the grim death look on his face so I hoped like hell he was about to give good news.
“I’m Dr. Edgington,” he said, extending his hand to Sookie. She shook it, and then he extended his hand to me, probably thinking I was his father. “Joshua is doing fine. Everything went very well. We were able to stop the bleeding. He’s going to need a little time to recover, but barring any complications we should be able to release him sometime next week. The punctured lung is the thing we need to keep a close eye on for the next few days.”
“Thank you,” Sookie said with relief, and sagged a little bit. Tears poured down her cheeks. “Can I see him?”
“Yes, you can, but just for a little while. He needs to rest up.”
Sookie turned to Madi and said, “I’ll come get you in a few minutes, okay?”
Sookie walked away with Dr. Edgington, leaving the rest of us there in the waiting room.
“Good to see you’re here,” Jason said, holding out his hand to me.
I grasped his hand to shake it. I still had one arm around my daughter. “I wouldn’t be anywhere else,” I told him. Josh was considered family. Even if he and Madi broke up he was the father of my granddaughter. That wasn’t going to change. I also knew he wasn’t likely to walk away the way his own father did. A man I noticed was absent from the waiting room. I wasn’t sure if he was called or not. I didn’t know if they had any contact with him at all. It was better that be wasn’t around. I wasn’t in the mood for bullshit.
“As you can see, Shithead ain’t here,” Jason said like he was reading my mind. He motioned for me to follow him away from the girls. We went over to where the coffee station was set up, and he started fixing himself a cup. “He got busted for drunk and disorderly last night. I stopped tellin’ Sook a long time ago since it happens so often. This time he took a swing on the arrestin’ officer, so he’ll be spendin’ a little more time than usual in the county lockup.”
“Good. Do you think he would’ve showed up anyway?” I motioned for the coffee machine. He stepped out of the way so I could make my own cup.
“Probably not. He ain’t showed up for much in Josh’s life. He usually only shows up if he thinks Sook’s gonna give him a handout of some kind,” Jason informed me. That explained a lot about her, too.
“I was just thinking I wasn’t in the mood for anyone’s bullshit. If he would have walked in I probably would have punched him on principle,” I sighed as I started to make my own cup. I left my good coffee at work. “Any idea what happened with Josh?”
“Best I can tell from the officer that was on the scene when it happened, Josh either did it on purpose, which don’t sound like my nephew,” he said. “Or he finally ran himself ragged like Sookie’s been warnin’ him he would, and he fell asleep behind the wheel. There weren’t any tire marks on the road, suggesting he tried to stop. He ran head-on into a light pole. It’s a damn good thing he traded in that truck he used to drive or he probably woulda been thrown through the windshield.”
“Fuck,” I sighed. “I know both Sookie and Madi have tried to talk to him about working so damn much. I’ve done my share of all nighters… man.” I knew there was nothing I could have said to him to slow him down. He was hell bent on doing it all on his own.
“He’s lucky he didn’t hurt anyone else,” Jason said before taking a drink of his coffee. “I don’t know how he managed not to hit any other vehicles, but it was just his that got smashed up. The front end of it is… Well… I think it’s totaled.”
Jason got out his cell phone to show me the pictures.
“Holy shit,” I muttered. The front end of his Escape was literally wrapped around a light pole. I knew it was irrational but I silently thanked Aude for keeping the boy safe. The picture looked eerily like the one from the day Aude died, except she was wrapped around a tree. I looked at Jason and said, “You know this is how the girls lost their mom. There was a drunk driver involved in her crash, though. She swerved to miss him when he was coming at her head on.”
Jason shook his head and said, “I’m sorry to hear that.”
“It’s been a long time,” I said dismissively. “I’m glad Josh made it. He’s a good kid. It’s going to be a while before Madi or Sookie allow him to leave the house.”
“I don’t think he’ll be able to leave a bed without one of ‘em jumpin’ up to wait on him,” Jason chuckled. “How’s your daughter doin’? She’s a good kid too, by the way. Josh doesn’t usually need someone to get him to act right, but when he does, she’s got that look down already.”
“She’s going to be a bit of a mess for a while,” I chuckled even though there was nothing funny about the situation. “She’s already an emotional wreck. The baby is doing a number on her hormones. The fact that she let me walk away is a good sign she’s going to be alright.” I still wanted her to go get the baby checked. I was sure she was fine, but there was a lot of stress going on for a while. Not to mention whatever other stress she’d been under while Josh was overworking himself.
“Man, you shoulda seen when Sook was pregnant,” Jason said, shaking his head. “I never seen a woman cry so much in my life. I sneezed twice in a row once and she spent the next two hours cryin’ her eyes out.”
That made me chuckle too. “I couldn’t imagine it,” I snickered. “She’s too tough to cry, at least that’s the impression she gives off.” I was glad I’d seen a softer side of her.
“Sookie’s… She’s tough, I won’t lie to you there, but that boy of hers is the sun. Everything she’s done in her life revolves around him,” he told me. “I honestly don’t know what she’d do if she lost him.”
“She’d crumble,” I said. It was clear Sookie’s world revolved around Josh. It wasn’t in a creepy Norman Bates way, but it was obvious just about everything she did was for him. “She’d pick herself back up again eventually.” It wasn’t easy but it was necessary. Especially with a grandbaby on the way.
“I’m not so sure about that,” Jason said. “I mean she might, but she wouldn’t be the same.”
“No one ever is after a loss like that. She’d have that grandbaby, though. She’d have that little piece of him if she would have lost him. But she didn’t, so we don’t have to worry about that.”
“Thank God,” Jason said under his breath.
I took a sip of my coffee and said, “I’m going to go check on my girls.”
Jason nodded as I walked over to sit with Madi. She was crying still, but they were more so tears of relief. I wrapped a protective arm around her and she leaned over into my chest.
“You gonna be okay?” I whispered, rubbing her arm.
“I’ll feel better after I see Josh,” she said.
“I know, Princess,” I replied as I kissed the top of her head.
I pulled Gracie over so I could hug her too. I didn’t know what I have done if if was one of my girls in that accident. I went through all the scenarios in my head when Aude was in her accident. I didn’t like any of them.
Sookie came back a few minutes later. She still looked pretty upset, but not quite as catatonic.
“He’s still asleep, but if you want to see him I can take you up,” Sookie said to Madi.
“Yeah, I want to,” she nodded.
“You can all come up, but they’ll only let one of us in the room at a time for now,” Sookie advised the rest of us.
I stood up with Madi. Gracie was glued to my other side. The rest of the Stackhouse clan was on their feet as well. They must have had a waiting room that was closer to his room. Having us all in the hallway didn’t seem very safe.
I held Madi’s hand and my other daughter squeezed to my side as we followed Sookie to the elevator and then through the maze of hallways that led to the room. When we arrived I let go of Madi’s hand. It was tough for her not to follow her sister into the room. I had to hold Gracie back a little; their bond was strong. It was always cool to see. We stayed out of the way, not sure if we should get into the conversation Sookie, Jason, and Hadley were having.
“I’m not leaving, Jason!” Sookie yelled after a minute or so of heated discussion. Hadley put her hand on Sookie’s shoulder to try and calm her, but Sookie jerked away. “You all can go home, but I’m not setting an eyelash out of here without law enforcement physically barring me from this hospital.”
“Shit,” I muttered. “Gracie, I’m going to go over there. I think it’s going to get ugly.”
“Ten bucks says she punches her brother,” she whispered.
“I’m going to try to stop that,” I chuckled. “She doesn’t need to go to jail for assaulting an officer.” She was completely right, though. Sookie had that hellcat look in her eyes.
“Sook, there’s nothing you can do for him,” Jason tried to reason. “He’s going to just be sleepin’. You ain’t a doct–”
There went that little hand balling into a fist. Jason must have noticed because he cut himself off.
I turned and pulled out my wallet. I didn’t want anyone to see me slip my daughter a ten dollar bill.
“For the intent,” I winked as I put my wallet away.
I turned back to Sookie and her brother. I made it to them in three steps with how long my strides were. When I made it to them I reached up to rest my hand on Jason’s shoulder.
“I’m not sure you understand what the lady is sayin’,” I said to him. “Right now, this hospital is the only place she can be.” We’d just talked about how much she cared for Josh, I thought he got it.
“Just go, Jason. I’ll be fine here,” Sookie said warily.
Jason shook his head and said, “Fine. You ain’t doin’ either of ya any good bein’ here, but it’s your life.”
“Oh go date a high schooler,” Sookie called after him as he stormed off.
At least Hadley was kind enough to give Sookie a hug. The little boy did the same, hugging her around her waist.
I waved Gracie over. She came over to stand with us. When Hadley let her go I offered, “I can stay with her. The hospital is no place for a kid.” He looked no older than seven or eight.
“I want to stay for a little while,” Hadley told me, reaching up to pat my arm.
“You don’t have to stay, Eric. I appreciate you bein’ here,” Sookie said sincerely. To my surprise she actually hugged me.
I hugged her back, squeezing her tight.
“I’m staying,” I whispered, rubbing her back. “You shouldn’t be here alone.”
She nodded, not arguing with me for once.
I wasn’t sure what to do without the argument, so I continued to hug. I wasn’t going to let go until she pulled away. When I’d been in the hospital waiting on news about Aude I did most of my waiting alone. I knew Josh made it through the surgery but until he was completely out of the woods and at heading home Sookie needed the support.