It was good to see Hoyt again. He showed up on the second and was planning to stay until the sixth, giving us four days together. I missed him, so it was going to be good to hang out with him for a while. He decided to fly down instead of driving. I’d gone to pick him up at the airport about an hour before. We stopped at the house to drop off his things before we got back in the Camaro to go shopping for Sookie.
“So what do you think of the house?” I asked once we were on the road, heading to the store. Sookie had asked me to pick up dog food along with a few things from the grocery store. I felt like she wanted to give me some man time with Hoyt.
“It’s a nice little place. Good size for three of you. No more kids in your future?” he asked.
“We’ve talked about it. When we first met she told me she wanted four kids. I promised her as many as she wants.” I’d still make good on the promise. “We’ll probably start trying in a couple years. I uh… was thinking about proposing to her when we get to California. I talked to Aaron about it and got his blessing. Poor kid is scared I’m going to take off on him like all of Sookie’s ex-boyfriends.”
“That’s fair. Not to mention, you kinda came out of nowhere. It’s good that he’s coming around, though. You digging the dad thing?”
“It’s pretty cool. I don’t know if I feel like a dad yet. He doesn’t ask me things, like if he can go to a friend’s house or things like that. I’m still just the guy sharing his mom’s room.” Aaron and I had made a lot of strides on the guys weekend. It was still a slow and steady race, but I was okay with it. We were still moving forward.
“That’s good, man. I’m happy to hear things are working out for you. You like it here though?”
“I do. I finally feel like I’m home. I’m not sure if it’s Surf City or if it’s Sookie and Aaron. I’m finally sleeping through the night,” I said like I was a baby. “I relax. I’m not as paranoid as I was. We’ve gotten into a couple small arguments, usually about my spoiling the shit out of Janis. I know her friend Jessica’s late husband snapped on her. It makes me nervous that I may do that one day, but so far things are getting better and better by the day.”
“You’re still seeing the doc, right? I think you’ll be okay. I mean shit, we all have bad days, veteran or not. I can tell that the shell shock isn’t as bad as it was two months ago. I think this place agrees with ya. Not having your old man around, ridin’ your ass all the damn day long helps.”
“It helps a lot,” I chuckled. “We’re going to take an RV to California, stopping in Denver on the way so my parents can meet Sookie and Aaron. I already know if Dad tries to ride me in front of Sookie he’s got another thing coming. She’s a pit bull when it comes to her boys.”
“That’s good. I think your old man could use a good ass chewin’. Hell, he’d probably like it,” he snickered.
“I don’t want to think about my dad liking anything like that. I’m sure he’s going to respect the shit out of her.” I made a left into a parking lot where the pet store was. I took note of the jewelry store.
“I hope so, or I have a feeling you’ll be keeping your distance, and I don’t think the boss’ll like that,” he chuckled.
“Or she’ll pack her shit and leave Crabass until he straightens his shit up. You mind swinging by the jewelry store with me?”
“Nope, not at all. What are you looking for?” The look on Hoyt’s face suggested he knew.
“Engagement ring. I don’t know if I’m going to get anything today but I want to take a look.”
“Shit, I’m shocked you haven’t put a ring on her finger yet.”
“I wanted to wait until Aaron was on board and he is,” I said. “I started teaching him how to drive on our way home from Talladega.” I parked in front of the store and turned it off.
“Oh, so you’re bribing him like she did with the dog, huh?”
“It works,” I shrugged.
Hoyt got out of the car and I followed.
“Whatever works for you, man. You know what kind of ring you’re looking for?”
“No idea. I’m sure I’ll know it when I see it. She’s a simple woman so nothing flashy. She’d be happy with a little gold band, but I wouldn’t be. I want to give her something she can show off a little.”
“So, classy, not trashy.”
“Just like my girl.” I opened the door for him so he could walk into the store. “Speaking of classy chicks. That friend of Sookie’s I mentioned, Jessica. She’s single and very sweet and classy.”
“Oh yeah? Good for her.” Hoyt took off his sunglasses when he walked into the store.
“Just saying. She’s going to be there on the fourth.” She was Hoyt’s type. “She’s a tall redhead. Very beautiful girl.” We walked over to the first case that seemed to be full of necklaces. Not what I was looking for. We moved on to the next case.
“I’ll be nice to her, but there isn’t much point getting involved. I’m not staying in North Carolina.”
I shrugged. For the right woman, he’d join me. Not that I thought Jessica was going to be the one for him. It was thought and maybe a little wishful thinking on my part. I kept walking along the cases until I found diamond rings.
When I got there I was a little overwhelmed with all the choices. They had big diamonds, little diamonds. Round, oval, square… even a tear drop shaped diamond. I never thought I’d have so many to choose from.
“I don’t even know where to fuckin’ start,” I muttered to Hoyt.
“Man, I don’t know anything about picking out rings. You shoulda brought one of her girlfriends,” he told me.
An older man in a suit that looked like it was tailored back in the 1920’s approached us. His thinning, flaxen hair was combed back. He was smoothly shaven and had a dapper look to him.
“Good afternoon, sirs, how can I help you?” he politely asked. There was a hint of an accent in his voice, but not local. More like… Irish? Maybe Scottish?
“Hi, I’m looking for an engagement ring,” I told the guy.
“Wonderful,” he said with a smile. “We have a lovely selection here to choose from. Do you know what you are looking for in a ring?”
“Not really,” I chuckled. “I thought I did but then I walked in and saw all of these.” I waved my hand over the ring selection. “I want something nice but not too flashy.”
“So we can stay away from this case,” he said gesturing to the one to the right of us. “Tell me about your girl and I can find you the right one.”
I smiled. It was impossible to explain Sookie. In my eyes, she was perfect despite all of her imperfections.
“She’s a simple woman that would probably cry and accept my offer even if I gave her a ring out of a gumball machine. She’s very kind and patient.” Anyone living with Aaron and me had to have patience.
“Is she a sunrise or a sunset?” he asked me.
“Sunrise,” I answered.
“Timeless or time stopper?”
“Is it possible to be both?” I chuckled. My answer could go either way depending on the situation.
“My Branna is,” he smiled. The old man walked over to a case a few feet away and motioned for me to follow. He placed a black velvet covered board on top of the glass and then reached into the case. He pulled two rings from it and set them both on the board. “I think either of these would be sufficient.”
I lifted them one at a time to inspect them. One had a round diamond in the center. There were little tiny diamonds in the swirl design that surrounded the diamond. It wasn’t as fancy as I made it sound. Very simple. Something Sookie would appreciate. The other ring had a diamond that was a little bigger. It was square and the lines around it almost made it look like an eyeball to me. Hoyt was probably right when he said I needed one of her girlfriends with me.
“Of these two, this one feels more like Sookie.” I lifted the one with the round diamond. I looked at it for a few more moments. “It will look perfect on her hand.”
“That ring is an excellent choice. It’s an antique ring with a band of rose gold and filigree there in the detail. The stone and the chips come to a total weight of .19 carats. It makes a statement without being too flashy. Timeless, would be the right word,” he said.
“It’s her,” I replied. “Now I hope she says yes,” I chuckled. She may have thought it was too soon. We already had a son and the dogs together. All they needed was my last name. If Aaron chose to take it.
“A good ring is a step in the right direction. Is this the one?”
“I think it is. That was a lot less painless than I thought,” I smiled.
The old man smiled back at me and motioned again for me to follow him to the cash register. Once I made my purchase I felt a lot heavier. It wasn’t a heavy feeling because I’d possibly getting married. It was heavy because I had to try to hide the ring from her until we made it to San Francisco.
We were sitting on the back porch watching Aaron play with the dogs and a couple of his friends on the beach. Sookie was lounging on my lap while Hoyt and Jessica sat in the chairs next to us. We’d just finished eating dinner, which was burgers I grilled, and we were waiting for it to get dark enough to start the fireworks.
I was a little nervous about all the noise of the fireworks scaring the dogs. I was lucky that the last few years didn’t trigger any bad memories for me. With all my work with Stan I hoped it never would. Hoyt had been seeing a therapist since we got back. I wasn’t worried about him. I hated that after Vietnam simple popping sounds were something people had to worry about. Something I had to worry about. It sucked.
“Is this what you and Aaron normally do on the fourth?” I asked Sookie. It was nice to finally relax a little after the busy couple of days leading up to the event.
“It depends. Last year I had to work so he went over to a friend’s house,” she told me. “I watched the fireworks on my own, but it was nice. Usually we cookout like we did today, stuff ourselves silly on watermelon and Jell-O, and watch the fireworks together. A few years ago he talked me into going camping for the fourth. I won’t ever make that mistake again. We got stuck at a campsite near some rowdy, drunk biker types who thought a single mom looked a little too good…”
“How did that turn out?” I didn’t like the sound of that. I hoped like hell she gave ‘em the business.
“Let’s just say I was glad I packed my six shooter at the last minute.” She was serious.
“Good. I don’t like thinking about you in those types of situations without me. We can go camping again if Aaron wants to go. I’m enough to intimidate any fucker that wants to mess with my family.”
Sookie kissed my cheek and said, “I think that was enough camping for me. You two can go rough it on one of your guys’ weekends.”
“Maybe we can talk Hoyt into coming with us,” I smiled. When I looked over Hoyt and Jessica were flirting. A lot. Uh huh…
“That would be nice. I like Hoyt. He’s a nice guy.” Sookie looked over at Hoyt and Jessica. “Looks like they’re getting along.”
“She’s totally his type,” I chuckled. “He is a very good guy. I don’t think I would have come out of that war alive without him.”
“Then I think I owe him a batch of muffins.”
“Probably. Maybe if he finds love with Jessica that would be payment enough,” I said quietly, rubbing Sookie’s hip.
“Could be.” She kissed my temple. “It would be nice if she found someone again. It hasn’t been that long since James died, but still…”
“I think Hoyt would be good for her. He’s a good, kind soul. Plus, it would probably get him to move down here,” I chuckled.
“Yeah, it might,” she agreed. “I’m guessing it would make you happy if he moved down here?”
“It would make me very happy. I like the guys I’ve met here, but Hoyt and I went through all of it together. There’s a bond we have that I can you really explain.”
“If it doesn’t work out like that I’ll probably drive up to visit him, or bring him down here.” I knew she wouldn’t have an issue with that.
“Anytime you want to go visit him you’re free to do so,” she said.
“I know. I wanted to let you know so it’s not a big surprise if I go up to D.C. Especially if I’m going through a rough patch.” I hadn’t had a bad patch since meeting up with Sookie again. I didn’t think I would anymore but it was always a possibility.
“Honey, if you’re ever having a hard time dealing with the past I want you to go see whoever you need to in order to get through it. I will understand that it can’t be me,” she said.
“Thank you.” I tilted her head so I could kiss her.
That response made me love her a little more. That was one of the reasons no woman I dated when I got home was good enough. They didn’t get that I was different. They didn’t understand when I needed to stay quiet and to myself. Sookie looked at me and knew if I needed my space. She was definitely my better half.