Hoyt could tell something was up with me when I got back to his place after dinner. I wasn’t expecting to be out so long during the day so he was already home when I got back to his place. I was still in shock not only because I ran into Sookie, but also because we had a son together. I knew the second I laid eyes on him he was mine. He looked just like me. He had some of Sookie’s features, but he was mostly me. I was going to have get pictures of myself when I was his age to show Sookie.
“Hey, man,” I said when I walked in. I’d met Hoyt in boot camp. We spent our entries military careers together. The first time we were separated was after I was shot.
“Hey. How’s it going?”
“Uh… could be better… or worse depending on how you take it,” I sighed. “I ran into Sookie…” He knew all about Sookie.
His eyes went wide.
“No shit? Like Sookie Sookie, not just some chick who looked like her?”
“Sookie Sookie. We had pizza together,” I told him. “And with our son.”
His jaw dropped. “Your son?”
“He’s twelve. There’s no mistaking the resemblance. I knew instantly he was mine.” Hoyt knew all about our summer together. I shouldn’t have been surprised Sookie wound up pregnant. “She said she sent me a letter to tell me about him but it was returned unopened. It was three weeks after she left. I was already heading to boot camp.”
“Damn. Well I guess it’s better you didn’t know. If you knew you had a kid waiting around for you that probably would have fucked you up even more.”
“I’m sure it would have. She told me she married a guy named JB so her dad thought he was the one that knocked her up. He knew Aaron wasn’t his, but seemed to want to be a dad. I respect him for that,” I told Hoyt. “He got hit with Napalm when Aaron, my son, was eight months old.” That wasn’t a pretty way to go.
“Oh fuck,” Hoyt cringed. “I’d kill myself if that happened.”
“Yeah.” I walked over to the fridge to grab a beer. I wasn’t sure how I was going to be around Aaron or Sookie. When I saw her everything I felt when I woke up and found that letter came rushing back to me. I wasn’t the same man she left. My mother believed I was still in my head somewhere, but I’d seen so much death and carnage it was hard to be as happy-go-lucky as I was when I was twenty-two. “She’s in town for the weekend on a class trip with Aaron. I told her I’d meet her in a couple hours down at the pool at their hotel. She’s chaperoning the kids. Her and a couple other moms.”
“What about after this? You thinking you want to be in the kid’s life?”
“What do you think?” I chuckled before taking a drink of my beer. Hoyt knew how I felt about Sookie. I’d never said it out loud, but I was pretty certain I was in love with her. It wasn’t the kind of thing that went away easily, especially when you’re sitting in a jungle being shot at. You think about what’s important and Sookie was definitely important. Now Aaron was important too, and I didn’t even know him. “She’s living in North Carolina. She told me she doesn’t want Aaron to know I’m his dad unless I plan on being in his life. I let her know life is way too fucking short to let anymore time pass.”
“That’s fair,” he nodded. “So then he has no idea you’re his old man, huh? That’s gonna be fuckin’ awkward.”
“Yeah, real awkward. He’s going to figure it out. He seriously looks just like me. He was looking at me at lunch like something was familiar about me. I wanted to point out that he looked at me everyday in the mirror.”
“Shit,” Hoyt muttered. “Sookie single?”
“I sure hope so. She held my hand under the table all through lunch,” I chuckled. “She’s the kind of mom that won’t let people get close to their kid. I’m pretty sure she is. She also didn’t protest when I told her I’ll be looking for a place in her town.”
“You really want to move to North Carolina? I thought you got enough of that place in the service,” he snickered.
“You remember how I talked about her, right?” I reminded him. I would have followed her to the ends of the fucking earth. I knew I had to get to know her again, but the attraction was definitely still there.
“Yeah, I remember. A kid is a big deal. Taking on a wife maybe too is an even bigger deal.”
“They’re my family. I didn’t know I had them but it’s like they’ve been waiting for me. I can’t describe the way Sookie looked at me. It was like we didn’t miss a day.”
“That’s… I mean good luck, man. I hope the shit works out for you. God knows you fuckin’ deserve it,” he said sincerely.
“Thanks.” Who knew what was going to come of any of this. Aaron could have hated me. I was sure he was going to be pissed at Sookie.
Only time could tell. I knew as soon as I told my mom she was going to start packing my shit to send me to Sookie. That was going to be an interesting conversation.
When I walked into the pool area a little later it was hard to miss Sookie. She was on a one piece swimsuit standing next to a couple other moms. I didn’t even notice them. I would always only have eyes for Sookie. I quickly learned that was never going to change.
When she spotted me she excused herself so she could greet me.
“Hello, gorgeous,” I smiled as I walked up.
“Hi.” Sookie tilted her face up to kiss my cheek. “Glad you found me.”
“Me too. You look good.” Without thinking my hands went to her hips. It was a comfort thing with her.
“Do you want to take a seat somewhere?”
“Yeah. I’ll follow you.”
Sookie took my hand and led me toward the deeper end of the pool. Aaron was splashing around with a group of kids. He stopped when he noticed me.
“He hasn’t asked any questions yet, but I know he’ll have a ton really soon,” she said once we were sitting down at a small table.
“I’m pretty sure he’s going to figure it out soon,” I replied. “He clearly knows something is up.” The other moms seemed to know something was up too by the way they stared at me.
“He probably will. Like I said, he’s a smart kid.”
“I can tell.” I leaned back in my chair. “So what else have you been up to since we parted ways?” I knew she wanted to know about me and what happened in Vietnam. It wasn’t something I liked to talk about. I only told Godric to keep him from trying to get on the front lines. It wasn’t a very fun place to be.
“Mostly it’s all about work and the boy. Going to college seemed to take forever, but it was worth the struggle. We have a pretty good amount of military families in the area and after losing JB I got involved with helping wives of the men who did come back home,” she explained. “They don’t get the support they need either. It’s really shitty what the government is doing to you vets. They don’t get the help they need so there’s definitely not help for the wives who now have to deal with husbands who have disabilities or mental health issues. It’s all terrible.”
“It really is,” I agreed. “Thank you for what you do for them. It means a lot to me that you’re trying to help. I lucked out with the having a bum leg and some shell shock. It’s not bad, mostly nightmares. It’s been kinda hard to get too close to people for fear of losing them the way I lost a lot of my comrades. At least that’s what Mom says is my issue,” I chuckled.
“I think that’s probably a pretty astute observation,” Sookie said. “My best friend lost her husband after he came home. He seemed to be doing okay and then one night the lights on the Christmas tree set him off. He choked her out in their living room and almost killed her.”
“That’s… I’ve heard of way too many of these stories. I… just so you know I haven’t had any episodes like that. I don’t ever feel violent. It’s more… scared, I guess.”
“A little paranoid?” She wasn’t giving me one of those pitiful, you poor broken man looks either; it was like she was trying to understand or relate to me somehow.
“Paranoid is a good word for it,” I nodded. “I have Hoyt, the buddy I’m staying with, he and I have been right by each other’s side since boot camp. I’d like you to meet him sometime. He’s what kept me somewhat sane through all this shit.”
“I’d like that a lot,” she answered. “Excuse me, I have to go tell Claude again not to hold someone’s head underwater.” Sookie got up with her mom face on, ready to verbally whoop some ass.
I watched as she walked over. It was strange looking at her with new eyes almost. She’d grown up so much since I saw her last. She was a mom, and it seemed a damn good one judging by the way she was scolding Claude. He looked like a little shit.
I could feel the other moms staring at me still while Sookie scolded the kid. That paranoia that Sookie mentioned was kicking in. I didn’t like it when people stared at me. It reminded me of that feeling I got when we knew we were being watched. I shifted uncomfortably. When Sookie turned to walk back to me she could probably tell something was wrong with me.
She looked over at the ladies who were staring at me, and changed her course. I couldn’t hear what she said to them but I was surprised when they all shifted their chairs to face away from me. Sookie smiled and I could read lips well enough to see her thanking them before she came back to me.
“They’re keeping watch for you,” she winked, and took her seat. “And with me facing this way, I’ve got your six.”
I reached over to take her hand. “I appreciate you, Sookie.” I liked that she knew me well enough, even after all these years, what my nervous face looked like.
“Thank you. They’re all military wives so they get it.”
“I’m sorry I’m weird now. I hate this,” I sighed. “I wish it was easy to forget it all, you know? I’m sure it’s going to be rough on me for a while.”
“Honey, you’re not weird; you’re human. You saw terrible things and it’s a miracle you haven’t gone ’round the bend. You don’t have to apologize for anything.” Sookie squeezed my hand with reassurance.
“I thought of you while I was over there,” I admitted. “I came up with all kinds of scenarios in my head about what you were doing with your life. I wanted you to be happy, even if it was with someone other than me.”
“I was happy,” she confirmed. “Aaron and I have gotten on pretty well. We’ve had our bad days, but it’s hard to stay mad for too long living on the beach.”
“Have you lived in North Carolina the whole time?” I inquired. I forgot how soothing it was to have her touch me. Even if it was as simple as her hand in mine.
“I have. I moved up here a few weeks after we were married and I liked being so close to the ocean, so I stayed even after I lost JB. Daddy wanted me to move back to Louisiana, but I refused. I knew he would try to talk me into marrying someone so Aaron would have a dad, but I was okay with being a single mom,” she said.
“You’re not seeing anyone now are you?” I wanted to ask before I got too attached again. I already knew it was going to happen.
“It turns out I have pretty high standards and I’m not willing to discount my son’s happiness so my new boyfriend can get laid regularly, so no, I’m not seeing anyone.”
“Good. It’s to my benefit you have high standards,” I smiled. It was probably the first real smile I gave her since running into her again.
“You set them.”
“I did that on purpose, you know? I’ve always wanted the best for you.”
“I know you did.”
I smiled as I squeezed her hand again. I glanced over to the pool to see Aaron watching us. He had to wonder who this strange man was that he’d probably never heard anything about getting so close with his mom.
I looked back at Sookie and said, “Aaron is just as protective of you as I was, isn’t he?” I was interested in learning a lot more about him.
“The apple didn’t fall far from the tree there,” she confirmed.
“I can’t wait to know him better. I’m nervous I’m going to fuck him up somehow because I don’t know how to be a parent.” My dad wasn’t a very good example. My mother did just fine, but Dad, not so much.
“You learn as you go. Believe me, I was a mess at first. Thanks goodness for the other wives who were willing to help me when I first brought Aaron home. I had to have surgery to deliver him. He was breech.”
“I’m sorry I wasn’t there for that,” I apologized. I knew there was nothing I could have done to change things. I still felt bad. I hated that I missed out on twelve years of his life and that I wasn’t sure if he was going to accept me into the rest of it.
“So am I. He was a good baby, for the most part. Teething was terrible and he threw some world class tantrums as a toddler, but he was walking at eleven months and he came out with a full head of blonde hair,” Sookie told me.
I chuckled. “I hope you have pictures of that. I haven’t told my parents yet. They’re going to be more shocked than I was.”
“Are you kidding me? I have tons of baby pictures of him,” she said. “That poor boy probably thought his name was ‘cheese’ with how often I had a camera in his face.”
That made me laugh. She was cute. I’m sure his little smiles were cute too. I couldn’t wait to see those pictures.
“How about us, what would you like to see happen with us?”
“You mean would I date you again?”
“I think I would. Heck, I might even have another one of your kids,” she said.
“I already told you I’d give you as many as you want. That still stands,” I smiled. I lifted her hand to my lips to kiss the back.
“I remember what you told me. I was also crazy to think I’d have eight kids,” she laughed.
“A little, but I was crazy enough to agree to it,” I chuckled. “You know I was also crazy in love with you, don’t you? I didn’t want to admit it to myself so it would be easier to let you go.” It wasn’t easier at all.
“I think we both left things unsaid thinking it would make moving on easier. I never thought I’d marry one man while I was in love with another.”
“This is our chance,” I said quietly.
“You really want to come to North Carolina?”
“I don’t care where I live, Sookie. I just want to be happy. The last time I was happy was with you.”
“How would you feel about driving back to North Carolina with me?”
“It would give a second driver so you don’t tire yourself,” I smiled.
“Well it’s only a six hour drive. We’ve driven longer together before. But I’ll let you drive my lame Mustang. Your son is lacking appreciation for American muscle cars.”
“Hopefully I can change his mind,” I said.
“I think you can. I’m a girl so I don’t know anything about cars, even though the Mustang I drive is one of only 117.”
“I’m excited to see it. I’ll give him the “Good ol’ American muscle” talk and see how it goes. He may hate me. Did he ask about me after lunch?”
“No, but I’m not surprised. Aaron likes to sit back and observe some before he starts asking questions or making judgments on things. He’s a very watchful kid,” she explained. “He’s also not very shy, so he might just go straight to you with his questions.”
“I’ll be an open book with him. I’ll censor any questions he asks about the war, if he asks them, but I want him to be comfortable asking me things and expecting the truth from me.”
“Honesty is good. Kids can sniff out a liar or someone who isn’t being genuine with them,” she said. “It helps that I like you.”
“I like you too,” I smiled. Hell, I was sure I still loved her. “I can feel him watching me. I take it as a good sign that I’m not paranoid with his eyes on me.”
“He’ll approach you when he’s ready. I’d like you to be there when I tell him you’re his dad,” she requested.
“Give me the time and place. I assume if I’m driving home with you I’ll be staying with you too…” I needed to tell my mother I was traveling to North Carolina. I’d been an adult for years, but I respected her enough to keep her posted so she didn’t worry. I needed to tell Hoyt too.
“We have a spare room you can stay in. I don’t know how Aaron would react to you sharing my room.”
“Don’t be surprised if I sneak in for a goodnight kiss,” I winked. I felt more like myself with Sookie. It was a good feeling.
“Oh I won’t be,” she laughed.
“I’m glad you know,” I chuckled.
I looked back out over the pool so I could watch Aaron play. It was very strange watching a part of me. I felt Sookie’s squeeze my hand again. I didn’t look back at her. I knew she was just silently telling me she was there and she understood where I was at in my head. I appreciated her more than she’d ever know. She’d been back in my life less than twenty-four hours and I already knew things were going to be changing for the better.