“So I’m going to apologize in advance if my cousin tries to grope your crotch at any point tonight,” I tell Eric as we turn onto my parents’ block. “Hadley’s ridiculously horny right now and Remy’s still fucking useless.”
“Is she hot? Should I take her into a bedroom and give her the best fuckin’ five minutes of her life?” he jokes.
“She looks like me but with brown eyes and a huge gut,” I snort.
“I’m sure I can get it up,” he chuckles. “I’ll politely smack her hand away and if she does it more than once I’ll tell on her.”
“Shit, maybe you should take her up on her offers. Maybe it’ll get Remy to get over his stupid phobia. If you wouldn’t cause brain damage to a developing fetus, I sincerely doubt he would.”
“Are you offering me up to a pregnant lady full of hormones? Because that actually terrifies me.”
I pat his knee and say, “Don’t worry, little guy, I’ll protect you.”
“Seriously, I fucked up and walked into a baby shower once on a cake delivery. The mother was fuckin’ on me like white on rice. I literally had to peel her hand off my ass… several times. I’m sure if I didn’t keep turning I would’ve gotten a fuckin’ hand job. She told me to meet her in the fuckin’ bedroom and I was scared she’d show up at the bakery for the next month.”
I can’t help but laugh at that.
“You poor, poor thing,” I say through my giggles as I park on the street in front of the house. I can see Jason’s truck, Hadley’s shiny new minivan, Gran’s old Buick that she refuses to give up and Hadley’s parents’ Audi. Of course everyone is already here, probably waiting to pounce. Thankfully, Eric has Jason to act as a buffer as well if he needs it.
“This is a little scary. I didn’t meet Nora’s parents in person until the wedding,” he tells me and leans over to kiss my cheek.
“Don’t worry, it’ll be fine. Uncle Mike, Hadley’s dad, will inevitably have one too many beers and get into an argument with my mom about politics because he’s addicted to those Fox News idiots and Mom is about as liberal as you can get. When Illinois announced that they’d be recognizing gay marriage she hung a rainbow flag from the awning.”
Eric chuckles and says, “Now I can’t wait to meet her.”
“Oh she’s a trip,” I chuckle. “Dad’s way more laidback. All he wants to do is eat dinner, sit in his chair and watch hockey. Don’t be surprised if he and Jason are wearing Blackhawks jerseys.”
“Thanks for the warning. Your dad isn’t going to hate me for not being a sports fan is he?”
“Nah,” I shake my head. My smile fades and I add, “I should tell you that my Gran gets… confused. She calls me Shelly sometimes because she thinks I’m my mom. It’s not total Alzheimer’s yet, but it’s heading that way.”
“Okay,” he nods. He lets out a breath and says, “Let’s do this.”
I crank up the heat before turning off the car. When I get out I put my wiper blades up since it’s supposed to snow at some point tonight. Eric gets the gifts from the trunk and I grab the casserole dish with the cheesy cauliflower that everybody’s been in love with since I made it on a whim when I was sixteen.
We walk up to the house and as soon as I open the door I smell the turkey cooking. Lord knows what time Mom was up this morning getting dinner started.
“Hello!” I call out. The first floor of the house is pretty much a great room. A few years ago my parents decided to renovate and knock down a bunch of walls. It’s opened up the house a lot, which is great for when family is over.
“In the kitchen!” Mom calls.
I close the door and we’re still taking off our coats and shoes when Hadley comes waddling in. Holy fuckballs, she’s enormous. I won’t say that to her, of course, but goddamn. If that kid comes out weighing ten pounds I won’t be the least bit surprised.
“Fuck me sideways, you’re tall,” Hadley says, looking Eric up and down.
I chuckle and say, “Hadley, this is Eric. Eric, this is my cousin, Hadley. She’s married and very pregnant with baby number one.”
“Clearly,” he chuckles and holds out his hand. “Nice to meet you.”
“Likewise,” she says, taking his hand.
“How’s the baby?” I ask. I reach over and put my hands on her belly without asking, not that she cares. If we weren’t family she’d flick me in the forehead like she’s done to three old ladies who felt her up without asking first.
“Huge,” she sighs as she releases Eric’s hand. “The little fucker’s laying on my bladder so on the way here, Mr. Leadfoot went over a pothole and I peed myself.”
“Oh…” I cover my mouth to hide my laughter.
Eric cringes a little and rests his hand on my back.
“We ended up making an impromptu run to Target over in Melrose Park and let me tell you what a fun trip that was. The entire strip mall smells like piss,” she tells us.
“Are you sure it wasn’t just y–”
I elbow him in the ribs. Hadley’s generally got a good sense of humor, as is evident by her candor, but she’s also a little fragile right now. She called me two days ago because of some commercial with a Grandma feeding her grandbaby Cheerios, talking about how all the family members live so far apart but they’d always be together for Christmas. Hadley bawled on the phone for an hour and made me swear I would never move far away.
So it’s no surprise to me when Hadley’s eyes well up and she waddles toward the bathroom. The door slams behind her and I shoot Eric a dirty look.
“Oops,” he says. “Maybe we should’ve put a muzzle on me.”
“Or you could just try being a little nicer,” I suggest, shaking my head as Jason approaches us. “Will you please keep an eye on him while I go get Hadley out of the bathroom? Prince Charming here made her cry.”
Jason laughs and says, “That’s not exactly hard to do, Sook. She cried when she found out Mom was using whole milk in the mashed potatoes.”
“Oy,” I mutter. Maybe leaving her alone is a better idea. “Come on, I’ll introduce you to the parental units.”
“Okay,” he nods and follows behind me toward the kitchen.
“Hi, Mom,” I say to get her attention.
She turns to look over her shoulder before a big smile lights up her face.
“Hi, honey.” She rinses her hands and walks toward us as she dries them. “This handsome man must be Eric.”
“That’s me,” Eric nods.
Mom comes over to give me a hug and tells me, “If I knew they made ’em like this I wouldn’t have settled for your father.”
I chuckle and say, “You did just fine with Dad.” I let her go and add, “Eric, this is my Mom, Michelle. Mom, this is Eric, the dick in a box.”
“It’s nice to finally meet you,” she says and turns to hug Eric.
“You too,” he replies. He hugs her back awkwardly.
“Is Dad down in the mancave?” Since Jason and I have moved out, Dad practically lives down there. He’s got his big screen TV, mini bar, surround sound and a pool table. It’s surprising he ever comes upstairs unless he’s hungry.
“Where else would he be?” she sighs.
“Want me to get him out of there?” I offer. I do it creatively and Dad hates it.
“Sure,” she nods. “I’m about to put this cake in the oven and then I’ll have some time to spend with you.”
“Do you want to stay here with mom or do you want to help me get Dad out of his chair?” I chuckle.
“I’ve already made one family member cry. I’ll stay here with your mom. I don’t want to get into too much trouble this quickly,” Eric says.
“Good. Maybe you can show me how to make a good German chocolate frosting. Mine always comes out too runny,” Mom says and tugs Eric after her.
“Mom, he’s not here to work,” I laugh.
“Neither am I, but you don’t see me complaining,” she throws out.
I roll my eyes.
“How many times have I offered to help you with this stuff and you always tell me not to trouble myself? Don’t be a martyr,” I say as I head for the basement stairs.
“Maybe I just want to get to know your guy and I didn’t want to sit him down like your father will to give him the third degree.”
Unfortunately, after what happened with Trey, that’s probably true. I didn’t even think about it since that’s not generally Dad’s style, but he wanted to go down to Louisiana and kick Trey’s ass when he found out what happened. Because Trey was in the Army, just like Dad was for six years after high school, he respected the career. He talked me down more than once when I got disappointed over canceled leaves or got worried about Trey being stationed overseas.
Now I can’t help but wonder if it was all a lie. I should ask Janella about that sometime if we talk again.
When I get down to the basement, Jason and Remy are sitting on the couch while Aunt Linda and Gran are over the bar, chit chatting about one thing or another. Uncle Mike is shooting pool by himself. He’s always been the odd one out at family gatherings, but he’s done it to himself. His ultra-conservative nature and inability to put a cork in it have caused more than one blowout with one family member or another.
“Merry Christmas everybody,” I say. I go over to Gran and Aunt Linda first to give them a hug and a kiss hello before moving over to Dad’s chair where I tickle his ear, much to his annoyance.
“I’m watching,” he says, batting my hand away.
“Mom wants you to come upstairs and meet my boyfriend,” I tell him.
“During the commercial,” he replies without looking away from the game they have on.
“It’s just a hockey game,” I shrug, earning dirty looks from Jason and Remy… both in Blackhawks jerseys.
“Little girl, that is blasphemy,” Dad replies.
I snatch the remote off the arm of the chair and turn the TV off.
“Dammit, Sookie, we’re going into overtime!” Jason barks at me.
“Then Dad better get his lazy bones up,” I shrug.
Dad growls but gets out of the chair before Jason and Remy throttle him. As soon as he’s standing, I turn the TV back on and toss the remote to Jason.
“You’re gonna pay for that later,” Dad threatens.
“Yeah, yeah, I’m sure I’m already on Santa’s naughty list,” I snicker as I lead Dad upstairs.
Eric and Mom and are in the kitchen and he’s giving her a tutorial on the proper way to make her German chocolate frosting.
“Sorry to break up the party, but look who I roused from the cave,” I say.
“She’s out of the will, Shelly. She turned off my game,” Dad pouts.
“It’s recording on your damn DVR, Corbett. Why didn’t you just press pause? Plus, missing five minutes for your only daughter isn’t going to kill you,” she tells him.
“Dad, this is Eric Northman, the new boyfriend. Eric, this old grump is my father,” I introduce them.
Eric thrusts his hand out. “It’s good to meet you, Mr. Stackhouse,” he says politely.
“You got a wife and little Northmans we should know about?” Dad asks as he shakes Eric’s hand.
“Dad,” I sigh.
“No sir, Sookie is it for me,” he replies.
“He’s not Trey, Corbett,” Mom reminds him.
“Just checking,” Dad says unapologetically. He looks at me and asks “You didn’t tell him about the uniform?”
“Eric isn’t into sports, Dad.”
“Were you abused as a child?” Dad asks. He’s only somewhat kidding.
“I probably should have told you that while Dad’s generally pretty relaxed, he takes hockey very seriously,” I tell Eric.
“I should’ve guessed after a game with Jason,” Eric chuckles. “And no, I wasn’t abused.”
“You’ve done enough baking. You come downstairs and get an education,” Dad tells him. He’ll turn Eric. He did it to Remy three years ago.
“Um…” Eric looks behind him at the frosting and then glances at Mom, who gives him a little nod. “Okay?”
“It’s okay, Emeril. You’ll be fine. It won’t hurt,” Dad teases.
“Sookie, are you coming with?” Eric asks me.
“Do you need help here, Mom?” I ask. I feel bad she’s doing all of this herself.
“I could use someone to talk to. Hadley’s been in the bathroom crying all day for one reason or another. I told her to go take a nap, but she’s too big to get comfortable.”
“And she’s still got six weeks to go. You know she told me last week that she started leaking–”
“Okay, okay, we’re going,” Dad says, tugging a horrified Eric along with him.
“You know that’s what you have to look forward to one day. You might as well listen when she tells you those things so you know what to expect,” Mom says as the boys hit the stairs.
“Maybe. I’m not sure if Eric wants kids,” I tell her. We discussed it that one time but he didn’t seem too enthusiastic about it.
“Well, you need to talk to him about it if it’s something you want. If he doesn’t, you may need to keep looking.”
“Mom, it’s too soon to be talking about having kids.” I take a seat at the breakfast bar and she puts me to work peeling potatoes.
“It’s never too soon to discuss what you want. Especially when you get to be the ages you are. I’m not saying have them this year but you should at least know what you’re getting into before you get too attached,” she tells me. “He’s good. Look at my frosting.” Mom holds up a spatula of frosting and hands it to me.
“He’s a professional, Mom,” I laugh.
She’s got a point; I’m not getting any younger and the clock is ticking. I don’t really want to be pregnant at forty. I hear the bathroom door open and a puffy-faced Hadley waddles to the fridge to get some water.
“I should just stay in the bathroom. Everything runs right through me,” she sighs.
“It’s only going to get worse,” Mom sighs. “It won’t even matter in the end once you get to meet him.”
“Unless he’s not cute. Had says she’s selling him on the black market if he’s an ugly baby,” I inform Mom.
“That’s his only job. Just be cute,” Hadley reasons.
“All babies are ugly when they come out. Give him a good thirty-six hours before you put him up for sale,” Mom says seriously.
Hadley sighs and wedges herself in next to me. “Where’s sex on a stick?”
“Downstairs getting schooled,” I reply.
“Oh, so you noticed Sookie brought GQ into the house,” Mom giggles.
“Aunt Shelly, if Remy’s dick wasn’t hibernating we would be defiling your guest room right now,” Had says seriously.
“Corbett went through that stage for about a week until he got tired of his hand,” Mom snickers.
“So, Sookie, details. The stuff that matters… is he hung?”
“Hadley!” I slap her arm.
“Well I’m not getting any and I’m guessing Auntie Shell only gets some if the hawks win…”
“True,” Mom shrugs.
“Well I’m not having that conversation,” I tell them. It’s one thing to discuss it with Hadley, but I’m not into talking about my sex life with my mom. She knows I’m not a virgin. That’s more than enough.
“Don’t worry, I don’t want to know anymore than I have to,” Mom chuckles. “All I care about is if he treats you well.”
“He does. He’s very good to me,” I tell Mom.
Gran comes upstairs on Remy’s arm and when she reaches us she touches Hadley’s belly.
“You’re going to be a good mommy, Linny,” she says and kisses Hadley’s cheek. My heart breaks a little. “You always took such good care of your dollies when you were little. This is a very lucky little girl.”
“Thank you, Gran,” Hadley says.
Gran shuffles on to the bathroom and Hadley starts crying again.
“She’s getting worse,” I observe quietly.
“Yeah,” Mom sighs. “It’s happening a lot faster than we expected.”
“Has Dad tried talking to her about moving into a nursing home? I’m not sure her living alone is a good idea,” I say to Mom.
“We’re looking into them and trying to find the right one before he talks to her about it. She’s going to put up a fight,” she sighs again. “I may retire early and move her in here…”
“That would be a full-time job.” I hand Hadley a napkin to dab her cheeks with.
“That’s why I would retire. She’ll put up less of a fight with us and we can bring in a nurse,” Mom explains. “We don’t want her to be uncomfortable.”
“I don’t either but… I don’t know… wouldn’t she be safer in a nursing home? She could steal your car keys in the middle of the night and try to drive home or something during one of her spells,” I point out.
“We’re taking all of that into account, Sookie. It’s not set in stone, just an idea.”
Gran comes out of the bathroom and Remy escorts her back downstairs. Physically, Gran is healthy as a horse. All of her frailties are mental. Alzheimer’s is genetic, so there’s a possibility that someday I could start to forget my life too. That’s a fuckin’ scary prospect.
“Awwww this is adorable!” Hadley says as she holds up the little onesie with penguins on it. “Thank you, Gran.”
“You’re welcome, Linny,” she replies, making Had’s smile falter.
“Jase, will you grab the big box with the Peanuts on it?” Hadley asks. That’s for Eric, but she doesn’t know it.
“Yep.” He moves to grab the box and looks at the name tag. “This one’s for GQ,” he says and hands the box to Eric.
“Uh… thanks,” Eric smiles. “Says it’s from Santa.” He takes way too long to unwrap the box. He peels the tape off the edge of the box and lifts the top off. He laughs as he pulls the Blackhawks jersey out. “I feel so official now,” he laughs.
“Without looking at the back, whose number is that?” Dad asks him.
Eric might actually get that since I put games on for background noise sometimes.
“Patrick Kane,” he replies triumphantly.
“There’s hope for you yet, young man,” Dad smiles.
“You can join us in the hockey widows club,” Hadley snickers.
“It’s a bit early for that,” Eric laughs.
“That’s what I said too,” Remy laughs and gestures to his Hossa jersey.
“It was nice knowing, Sookie,” Eric sighs dramatically and leans over to kiss my cheek.
“It’s okay. I’m sure I can lure you back,” I wink. It’s his turn to pick a gift for someone. Most of them are for the baby. This kid is going to be so fuckin’ spoiled.
Eric gets up and picks up a bag with candy canes on it. He looks at the tag and reads, “Shelly, you hit the jackpot.”
“Thanks,” Mom smiles as she takes the bag from Eric. She leans back to open the bag and it’s a nice yellow V-neck sweater from Had and Remy. “Thanks, kids,” she smiles and gets up to hug Hadley.
Mom gets up and grabs a small box. “This one is for Sookie, from GQ.”
I take the little box from her and the look on her face makes it obvious that she’s hoping there’s a ring in it. If there is, I’ll kill him.
I tear off the paper with far less patience than Eric displayed when opening his gift. The box isn’t velvet, so I’m sure Mom’s hopes are dashed. When I lift the lid off the box I gasp. There’s a beautiful necklace inside with a diamond crusted flower pendant attached to the delicate chain.
“Eric…” I breathe.
“All that time at the bakery is paying off,” he smiles and leans over to kiss my cheek.
“It’s gorgeous,” I whisper and turn my head to kiss him back.
“What is it, Sook?” Hadley asks.
I turn the box so she can see it and I get a chorus of approving comments from her, Mom and Aunt Linda. It’s a stunning necklace.
“Thank you, Eric,” I say sincerely.
“You’re welcome. You really like it?”
“I love it,” I reply and give him another kiss.
It takes Dad clearing his throat and Jase threatening to get the hose to break us up, but I don’t care. I get up to grab a gift, and hand it to Dad to open. When I sit down again I snuggle into Eric’s side, resting my head on his chest while he plays with my hair. This is the best Christmas I’ve had in years.