“So how soon would you be here?” I was on the phone with my cousin. Vegas wasn’t that far from LA, so even by bus it would only be a few hours.
“Probably in the morning,” she answered.
“Are you flying in or…”
“Bus,” she answered. “I have a ticket already.”
“What time do you get in? I can pick you up,” I offered. I wasn’t sure about letting her stay with me, but I figured it was better than her walking the streets downtown or finding some sleaze ball to cozy up to for a few weeks.
“The bus is supposed to arrive at 8:30 in the morning.”
“Okay. I’ll be there. Keep your eye out for an orange Jeep.”
“Thank you for doing this for me, Sookie. It means a lot.”
“I want you to get better, Hadley. You’re family,” I replied.
“Yeah. I’ll see you in the morning.”
We hung up and I set my phone on the bed. I hoped having her in my house wasn’t a mistake. She sounded committed to kicking her habit once and for all. She was checking into a reputable in-patient facility and not one of those vacation rehabs I saw commercials for when I watched TV. She could have gone to any hospital if she needed to, but I understood wanting to go where treatment was specialized to help with detoxing and starting the therapy process. I was proud of her for taking the steps she was, and I hoped this would be the last time she would have to go through it.
Eric came out of my bathroom with a towel around his waist. He had been waiting for me when I got home the night before.
“I have something I need to talk to you about,” I said. I was going to have to show a few of my cards, whether I wanted to or not.
“Okay…” He looked a little nervous.
“So the reason I was out of it on our first date was because my cousin Hadley called me. She’s been strung out on one drug or another for a long time. She ran away from home when I was still a kid. Heroin is her drug of choice,” I told him. “And I’m pretty sure I know why she got into doing drugs, but she’s never confirmed it. The reason why she didn’t is because when I tried to… I tried to tell my dad what was happening and he called me a liar. He never believed me. Seven years…” I trailed off and wiped a few tears off my cheeks. I was grateful Eric couldn’t see the awful memories in my head.
“You… are you saying…”
I hadn’t told anyone about it in so long. Silence was my friend. I needed to tell him. He deserved to know, and I couldn’t keep up the charade forever. So I took a deep breath and told him my darkest secret.
“My grandmother’s brother molested me from the time I was six until I was thirteen and I finally got the courage to stop it myself,” I told him.
He looked at me for a moment. I couldn’t quite figure out what it meant. Finally he said, “That’s motherfucker… Sookie, I’m…” I could see the anger bubbling up. “I’m so sorry that happened to you,” he said, taking a deep breath. “I’m guessing no one believed you when said something.”
I shook my head.
“My dad idolized Bartlett. No way would he do that,” I said, and wiped more tears off my face. “When I told him he called me a liar and beat me for making up stories.”
“Your dad needs to have his ass kicked,” he muttered. That intense look in his eye was far from sexual. “His job was to protect you, Sookie.”
“I know,” I nodded. “So now you’ve seen a few of my cards.” My anxiety was through the roof, not knowing if he would think I was damaged or broken or just defiled because of my past. I didn’t see myself that way, but he might.
“Do you have any other cards you’re willing to give right now? Is there anything worse than what your dad and uncle did?”
“That’s not bad enough?”
“That’s fucking terrible,” he sighed. He walked over to where I was standing and wrapped his strong arms around me. “I’m sorry you had to go through that, Lover,” he whispered.
“The worst part is I used to think I deserved it,” I told him. “The things both of them did to me I wouldn’t wish on my worst enemy and definitely not on a baby. I was just a baby,” I said and then started to sob. I hadn’t cried like that in a long time, but I obviously needed it and I felt safe enough with Eric to do it.
“You made it out,” he whispered as he rubbed my back. “I’m so proud of you for getting away from that shit.”
I was proud of me too, but I was still angry deep down. Who would I have become and what would I have done with my life if my dad had bothered to hear me out? There was no way of knowing.
“Hadley is going to rehab, but they won’t have a bed for her until July second, so I’m letting her stay with me until then. She’s coming in from Vegas in the morning,” I told him.
“I don’t want to think ill of your cousin, especially if she went through the same thing you did, but do you feel safe with a drug addict staying with you?” His strong hands continued to rub up and down my back.
“I’m a little concerned that it might not be the best thing, but she needs help and she’s the only family member I have who will talk to me. My dad cut me off when I told him I was dancing, and my brother followed.”
“Be careful, Sookie,” he warned. “I work with a lot of drug addicts. I’m sure you’re pretty familiar with them too in your line of business. Her staying in your home makes me very nervous for you, but I understand why you’re doing it.” He kissed my forehead as he hugged me.
“I told her no visitors and no drugs in my house,” I told him. Those were my conditions. If she wanted to go somewhere else and get high I couldn’t stop her, but I didn’t want that shit in my house. Ever.
“I would feel safer if we put her up in a hotel that didn’t have any of your things in it.”
“If she starts to be a problem I’ll get her a room. It’s just that if she’s here I have an idea of how much she’s using, you know? Maybe if she knows she has someone on her side cheering her on she’ll really want to get clean.” I didn’t judge her for her habit, but I didn’t condone it either. Hadley deserved to experience life sober. Some days my past hurt to the point where I didn’t want to get out of bed. I had bad days. But I knew getting lost in an addiction wouldn’t erase the past or rewrite it. Picking up a heroin addiction would only make things worse.
“You’re a good woman,” he said quietly.
“I could be better.” I lifted my head to look up at him. “I won’t take it personally if the things I told you changes things.”
He ran his fingers through my hair before saying, “The things you told me only make me want to spoil you more, Sookie. You’ve been through some really tough things and they made you the woman you are today. It changes nothing for me.”
“Don’t spoil me too much. It makes me nervous,” I admitted.
“You got it. I’ll make sure to only give you a half hug and a kiss on the cheek the next time I see you,” he said with a small smile. “I like you a lot, I’m sure you’ve figured that out. I just want what’s best for you. I may unintentionally spoil you,” he added in warning.
“I won’t be upset if you do. I’m working on it, you know what I mean?” I knew my hang-ups were mine and I was the one who needed to change.
“I do know. Kennedy and I had a long talk the other night. I told her I didn’t want to know too much because I’d rather learn it from you, but I got the gist of… Well, you,” he said.
“You had a long talk with Kennedy about me?” She hadn’t mentioned it.
“Not all about you, but yes… I had to talk to her about some things I needed her help with. Before you ask, I’m not giving any details,” he said with a nervous smile.
“Okay,” I said suspiciously. I had no idea what he was up to. Kennedy wouldn’t tell me anything either, so I wasn’t even going to bother asking her.
“I’ve already said too much,” he chuckled.
“At least I guess you’re not plotting a breakup. Not that we’re officially a thing or whatever.” I needed to stop talking. “I mean we could be a thing or a couple or whatever you want to call it.”
Shut. Up. Sookie.
“You’re cute,” he smiled. Eric ran his fingers through my hair again. “I’m not seeing anyone else. I don’t have plans on seeing anyone else. If you’re okay with me having sex with other women for work, we could totally be a thing.”
“I told you I wouldn’t ask you to give up your job. I know that’s all it is,” I replied.
“Yes you do. That’s a lot of the reason why I like you on set. You can see what it is between takes. I would very much like to be a thing if that’s what you want.” Eric dipped his head to give me a peck on the lips.
“I’d like to be a thing,” I confirmed. It was still a little surreal to me that he was interested in me at all. Being able to call him mine wasn’t anything I would have expected when I met him. It seemed like it had been longer than two weeks, but that was all it had been.
“Then we’re an us,” he whispered. He tilted my head up to kiss me again.
“Are you sure one woman is enough for you?”
“One woman is definitely enough,” he assured me. “You’re enough for me.”
“You’re enough for me too. Thank God you’re not a twin.”
“Oh, you could not handle two of me,” he teased. “I’m handful enough. I do come with the sidekick. Ras is close enough to being my brother.”
I definitely couldn’t handle twin Erics. One was more than enough. Just one was changing me in little ways. I actually felt relieved that I had told him that piece of my childhood. Knowing that he knew the worst of it and he wasn’t running away from it made me like him a little bit more. Okay, a lot more. My past was something about myself I couldn’t change and would always feel some kind of shame about. No matter how comfortable I got with the emotions that talking about it brought up, I knew shame was always going to be shuffled in the deck somewhere.
“I really like your hugs,” I told him. I wasn’t usually much of a hugger or a cuddler, but around him it was different. I was like a damn cat seeking attention and he was more than willing to give it. We were a good match that way.
“I’m glad. My mom always taught me you can’t have enough of them. I am a very affectionate man, so even if you didn’t like them I’d sneak them in as much as I could.” He kissed the top of my head. “And you feel really good in my arms.”
“Too bad you don’t have a bike,” I smiled. He’d be fun to ride up the coast with.
“I can get one. I’ve been thinking about it,” he told me. “Ras has been trying to talk me into it for months now.”
“Do you have a license for one?” I liked them but I didn’t want one of my own, per se.
“I do. I got it when I was eighteen. I was convinced I would never ride in a car. One of my good friends was killed in an accident two years later and my mother forbid me from riding a motorcycle again,” he told me. “I sold my bike the next year so I could afford the down payment on a bigger apartment and I haven’t gotten a new one.”
“Well let’s just say that if you decided to get another bike, I wouldn’t just be excited to ride it,” I winked.
He leaned down to kiss the spot just below my ear and whispered, “Would you let me bend you over it so I could fuck you hard?” He was using that damn sex voice on me.
“Absolutely,” I answered. We would both be winning there.
“Can you imagine the way a Harley would rumble between your sexy thighs when we got on the road?” He slipped his hand between my legs from behind. “We could stop somewhere on the coast to take care of you…”
“I like the way you think,” I smiled.
“You’re okay with a boyfriend that thinks about sex more than most other things?” He was still rubbing my opening from behind.
“As long as it’s sex with me.”
“Oh, it is,” he smirked. “I looove sex with you.”
“You want some right now?” I tugged away the towel that was wrapped around his waist.
“With you I always want some,” he chuckled.
“Prove it,” I challenged.
He took my hand and wrapped my fingers around his cock. “This isn’t proof enough?” He was almost completely hard.
“It’s a start.”
His eyes quickly turned to that Steel Johnson look. “Hold on, Lover,” he purred as he slowly backed me up toward the wall. When my back touched it he dropped to his knees so he could pull off my pants. His blue eyes locked onto mine as he put my leg over his shoulder so he could dive in and show me exactly how much he appreciated and enjoyed me.
I almost felt bad for anyone who might come after him. Eric was setting the bar high and I wasn’t sure if anyone could top it.
At first I didn’t recognize my cousin. It had been well over five years since the last time I saw her. Quinn had asked me to go with him to New Orleans for Mardi Gras. He was setting up an event for work, but he was free at night. It was meant to be a nice little reprieve from the desert heat in Vegas, even at the end of winter. Tracking Hadley down wasn’t easy, but a friend of Quinn’s worked for the NOLA PD, and he was able to locate her for me.
Over the phone we had agreed to meet at Café du Monde for beignets and coffee on the afternoon of day two. I didn’t recognize her then either. She was sickeningly thin and the pock marks on her face suggested she had been getting into meth. Hadley was six years my senior but looked like she was almost forty thanks to the hard life she had been living. She told me a sob story about the asshole she was living with and how she wanted to get away and get clean but didn’t know how. I’d believed that she wanted to get better, but judging by the way she looked as she walked toward me at the bus depot, she hadn’t tried very hard to turn her life around.
I told myself I wasn’t going to give her money for anything. I made that mistake once in New Orleans, and I wasn’t going to make it again. Kennedy knew that Hadley was coming and I told her I wouldn’t take offense if she didn’t want to keep any valuables in the house for the duration of Hadley’s ten day stay with us. Kennedy promised to reserve judgement until she met Hadley, and I loved her for it.
“You’re so skinny,” I said when she reached me. Hadley was skin and bones. I hugged her tight and almost broke down right there. Her eyes were sunken in and she really did look like someone who was on the verge of dying.
“I don’t have much of an appetite,” she answered. That was the drugs talking, not her. Her body needed nourishment.
“Well we’re going to get breakfast,” I told her.
“I just want to sleep. I’m so tired, Sookie.”
She probably was.
When she pulled back I realized she was high as fuck. That wasn’t sleepiness, that was heroin.
“Come on.” I took her bag and carried it to the back of the Jeep. “We can settle for drive thru for now. You need food.”
Hadley didn’t argue with me. She got in the passenger’s side and buckled her seatbelt. I started the car and the air conditioning hit us both. Goosebumps broke out on Hadley’s skin, so I turned the air down.
Traffic sucked, but that was nothing new. For a while I drove in silence to give her a chance to look around and get comfortable. Hadley’s eyes were hidden behind a pair of cheap sunglasses. The clothes she had on didn’t fit her well. I promised myself I wouldn’t give her money, but maybe I could get her a few things to wear, even if it was just a few basic things from Target. Nothing too expensive or fancy, just something new to help her feel a little more hopeful about her situation.
Finally, after what felt like hours, I asked, “How was your bus ride?”
“Boring,” she answered. “I got a nap in, so I can’t complain too much. I had to turn a few tricks to get the money for bus fare.”
It hurt my heart to hear her say that, even if it wasn’t exactly a surprise. A steady job and heroin addiction didn’t exactly go hand in hand.
“You should have told me. I would have taken care of it,” I said.
“You’re letting me stay with you. Besides, I like sex.”
Well yeah, so did I, but it was different when it was being sold. At least to me it was.
“Are you seeing anyone?”
“You mean a boyfriend? No, not since I left Louisiana. I was seeing this guy who started out as a john, but it didn’t work out. He was too nice.”
I knew all about too nice.
“Nice isn’t a bad thing,” I said.
“It’s deceiving. I thought we were doing okay, that he had accepted me. I was wrong. We wanted different things. He wanted me to settle down and be a mom. I wanted to do drugs. You know, keep the monster at bay.”
“Then it sounds like breaking up with him was the right thing to do.”
“It was. I hope someday our son will understand.”
“Your son? You have a baby?”
“He’s four-months-old. I was off heroin most of my pregnancy,” she said.
I shook my head anyway. I didn’t want kids, but I knew better than to do drugs while pregnant. Damn.
“You just left him?”
“I’m not fit to be a mother, Sookie. I can’t even take care of myself,” she said. I couldn’t argue with that.
“What about after you get clean? Do you have a plan for that?”
“No. One day at a time,” she said. “It’s hard enough to think about living without drugs. The thirty-five weeks and four days I didn’t shoot up were the worst of my life. Every day I struggled with wanting to get high, but I didn’t because I’m going to give that little baby more of a chance than either of us ever had. If that means I stay away and let his daddy raise him alone, then that’s what I’ll do.”
I wasn’t real big on religion or prayers. Church was just a part of life as a kid, but with all I’d been through I had a hard time believing that God was real when it felt like not one of my prayers had ever been heard or answered. But if there was a god, I hoped He would help Hadley get it together so she could be in her baby’s life.
I went through a McDonald’s drive thru and got a variety of breakfast options for us. I parked at a beach and we ate in the car. There were tons of stories I was sure Hadley had to tell, but I knew it was going to have to wait. She was staying in the third bedroom down in the basement. That room was more of a storage room than a guest room, but there was a nice trundle bed and ample closet space, not that she needed much with just her one bag.
What Hadley needed was patience, understanding and a safe place to rest her head. I just hoped she would remember why she was doing all this so someday she could be a. mom. I was committed to doing whatever I could to help her. The rest was up to her.