“Hey, Mom,” I replied when she answered my call. I needed to break the news to her. I felt a little more relieved knowing Aaron knew the truth. I wasn’t sure how he was going to take the news I’d be staying with them a while.
“Hi, sweetheart, how’s D.C.?” She was her usual, cheerful sounding self.
“D.C. is great,” I answered. “I’m not sure how I am. Are you sitting down?”
“Uh oh. You didn’t get silly drunk and marry a stranger, did you?” That was random, even for Mom.
“Not quite. I did get someone pregnant thirteen years ago.” I was going to let that sink in.
“You… You… Who?”
“Remember Sookie? The girl from Louisiana I met before I went to boot camp? I ran into her… and our son.”
“Your son?! Holy sh– Really?”
“He looks just like me. It’s almost eerie how much he looks like me. He’s also taller than Sookie already. They’re in D.C. for a school field trip.”
“Where are they living? Did you meet your son? What’s he like? Is Sookie single?” There she went, firing off questions like usual when she got excited.
“They’re living in North Carolina. I’m going to drive home with them to see where they live. I did meet him, and yes, he learned I am his father. Sookie says Aaron is a really smart boy. He’s protective of his mother,” I chuckled. “The apple didn’t fall far from the tree there. And yes, Sookie is single.”
“Are you still interested in her?”
“Yes. And I think the feeling is mutual. We agreed that we need to get to know each other again. She’s still just as beautiful as ever. She’s a nurse and she does a lot to help the veterans.”
“I like her already. So she’s been raising this child all by herself all this time?”
“Yeah. She married a man named JB when she got home and found out she was pregnant so her dad wouldn’t make her get rid of him, or disown her. He knew Aaron wasn’t his, but he vowed to raise him as his own. Sookie said he was excited about the baby. Sadly, he got killed in Nam when Aaron was eight months old. She’s been on her own with him the whole time. She’s a good mom. You’d really like her a lot.”
“I like any woman who grabs life by the short and curlies to do things her own way.”
I chuckled and said, “I’m going to move to North Carolina to be closer to them. I don’t want to waste anymore time. I’ve already lost twelve years with Aaron.”
“Ohhhh… well, of course I’ll miss you. I like having you close, but I understand why you have to move. It’ll be good for him to have a father,” she said.
“I hope so. I’m worried I won’t be any good at it. Once I get settled you should fly out so you can meet them.”
“I would love that. I might even let old Captain Crabass come along.”
“He’d really like her,” I chuckled. “I may not be his favorite, but I’m sure he’d take a chill pill if he saw I was trying to be a good dad.” I didn’t want to be the kind of dad he was. Nothing I ever did was good enough for him. Even when I got drafted he said I should have enlisted and it wouldn’t have been such a shock.
“I think he would too. I’m also guessing she’d give him a good dressing down if he started getting onto you for nonsense,” she said.
“I have no doubt she would. She had a talk with a few of the moms on the trip staring at me and making me uncomfortable. She’s good at reading me.” She’d always been able to read me well. “And before you ask, she did try to reach out to me to tell me about Aaron when she found out she was pregnant with him. The letter she sent was returned.”
“That’s unfortunate. Well, I suppose it’s a bit of a miracle that you happened to be in the same place at the same time,” she said.
“Or fate. I knew thirteen years ago we’d find each other again.”
“You still think she’s the one for you after all these years?”
“I know we have to get to know each other all over again. We’ve both changed quite a bit. I still got that feeling though. When I was with her I finally felt like I was home and safe again,” I explained. I knew I was safe at my mom’s house, but there was a different feeling I got with Sookie. “Not that I don’t feel safe with you.” I wasn’t going to be able to live with her forever.
“Eric, I understand. It’s the same feeling I got every time old Crabass came home.”
“I’m glad you get it,” I chuckled. “So it’s not strange that I feel that way about a woman I barely know anymore?”
“Oh honey, who can explain why we feel the way we do about anything? If it’s meant to be, it’ll always find a way.”
“How do you feel about being a grandma?” I asked.
“Well of course I look too young for it,” she said, which was silly with her head nearly full of gray hair that she tried to cover with hair dye. “But I think it’ll be nice. Your father will probably try to recruit him into the Corps.”.
“I’m not sure Sookie would let him go. She’s already seen so much death thanks to that shitty war. She would take your approach when Godric said he wanted to join.”
“I’m as patriotic as the next fella, until the government wants to send my sons to die in a war we didn’t belong in in the first place,” she said. “You should know your father is giving me the hairy eyeball for that.”
“Not surprised. Some days I don’t know how you put up with him.” Crabass was a very appropriate nickname.
“Xanax in his coffee,” she said without missing a beat.
“Whatever works,” I laughed. “I should let you go so I can get to bed. We’re going to leave early in the morning. I just wanted to call and let you know I’d be on the road to North Carolina soon. I’m going to stay in Sookie’s guest room while I look for a place to live there. Once I do that I’ll fly back to get the rest of my things.”
“Alright. Have a safe trip, sweetheart. I love you.”
“I love you too.” I hung up and then walked over to Hoyt’s couch. He was already in bed for the night. We were going to get up early to have coffee before I left. I finally felt like I was heading toward something good. I didn’t think I’d ever feel good again.
It was my turn to drive. We’d stopped off just before Richmond, Virginia to stretch our legs and change drivers. I personally felt safer driving. Sookie was a good driver, so it had nothing to do with that. It was a control thing I’d picked up a few years before. I wasn’t a controlling person, but I found I felt better when I was in control of a situation. If Sookie insisted she drive, I was going to let her. Thankfully, she didn’t.
“Do you guys want anything from inside?” I asked. The gas station had a little convenience store attached.
I nodded. “Aaron, would you like to come in with me?” He hadn’t said a whole lot to me. I knew he was still trying to feel me out and observe. We hadn’t had any one on one time. A few minutes in the store would be a nice place to start.
He looked at Sookie for a few seconds before he finally nodded.
“Yeah, okay.” Sookie had to talk him into riding with us instead of on the bus with his buddies.
I waited for him to get out of the car. There was an attendant filling up the tank. Sookie was stretching her legs before we got back on the road.
As we started to walk toward the store I looked down at my son and said, “You know, I’m an open book for you. Anything you want to know about me or my feelings about your mother, I want you to ask.”
“Okay,” he replied. When he got to the door he opened it for me. “Mom taught me to open the door for old people.”
I laughed and said, “I’m not considered an old person yet. At least I don’t think so. Thank you, though. She’s a good mom.”
“You have no idea,” Aaron mumbled and followed me inside.
I had an idea. I knew what a good person Sookie was in general.
“Do you want anything? A drink or something chips or something? Beef jerky?” That was my new favorite snack.
“Beef jerky is gross,” Aaron scoffed. “It smells like dog butt.”
“You’re crazy,” I chuckled. I grabbed two big bags of beef jerky. One plain and one peppered. “You want any other snacks? We’re going to be in the car for a while.”
Aaron looked around for a minute or so before he grabbed a bag of Red Vines.
“Mom likes these. They’re her favorite,” he told me.
Huh, I didn’t know that. She’d never mentioned it while we were together. Even when we stopped for snacks on the way to Oregon all she got was some potato chips and like five Chunky bars.
“If you think we should get them, sure,” I nodded. I grabbed a handful of Chunky bars when I saw them. “Do you want anything?”
“Nah, I’m not hungry.”
I nodded. I walked up to the counter to set my haul down. I went to the fridge to grab a six pack of Coke. I paid for the snacks and gas before Aaron and I left the store. I still couldn’t quite figure out what he thought about me. It would probably take a while for him to warm up to me.
When we got back to the car the attendant was done pumping gas. Sookie was standing at the passenger door waiting for us.
“I got snack happy,” I smiled at her. I had to stop myself from kissing her. I felt like I was twenty-two again.
“I see that.”
Aaron said nothing as he got into the backseat. Sookie shook her head.
“I think he hates me,” I whispered. I was sure he heard me anyway.
“He doesn’t hate you.” Sookie patted my arm. “He just needs some time to adjust to this. It’ll be okay.”
I nodded. Sookie slipped into the car and I closed the door behind her before I walked around to the driver side. I handed Sookie the snacks when I got in.
“Aaron told me Red Vines are your favorite,” I told her when she peeked into the bag.
“Oh he did, huh?” Sookie put the bag on the floorboard and looked back at Aaron with narrowed eyes. I caught him shrugging in the rearview mirror. “I’m sorry he told you that. I hate licorice.”
“Shit, sorry,” I frowned. It bothered me that he lied to me. I tried to hide it. “It’s okay. I like them, so I’ll eat them. I got you some Chunky bars…”
“Oooh, those I love. I’m glad you remembered,” she said. She leaned over to kiss my cheek and I heard Aaron grumble in the backseat.
“I’m glad I remember something,” I chuckled. “I just remember you grabbing a whole box on the way to Oregon,” I teased. I started up the car and put it into gear to pull forward. My hand went straight to Sookie’s leg.
“What’s not to like? Chocolate, peanuts and raisins all together.” Sookie moaned softly. In my peripheral vision I saw Aaron shaking his head.
“The raisins,” I laughed. I hated raisins. I was sure she remembered that from the last time she had them. “Can you pull out some beef jerky for me?”
“Raisins are delicious.” Sookie leaned forward to reach into the bag of snacks. “Which one do you want?”
“Peppered, please. And grapes are delicious. Raisins are weird.”
“You don’t know what you’re talking about.” Sookie took the peppered beef jerky out of the bag. “Aaron, is this regular one yours?”
“Nope, it’s all Eric’s,” he answered.
“You didn’t get any? I’m shocked.” Sookie turned the opened bag toward me so I could pick a piece from it.
“It smells like dog butt according to him. Thanks.” I reached in for a big piece. Mmm… dry, peppery beef…
“Funny. Until about fifteen minutes ago it was his favorite snack,” Sookie informed me.
“I see.” So it was going to be like that. I was going to let it go. I didn’t expect him to like me right away. I also didn’t expect him to lie to me. “No problem. It’s his loss if he doesn’t want it.”
Sookie took my hand and squeezed a little. She gave me a sympathetic look, telling me with her eyes not to give up.
I squeezed back. I wasn’t going to. I was going to keep trying. I couldn’t imagine how he was feeling. If I’d only known my mother and some strange man walked into our lives and tries to play daddy, I would have been pretty upset too. My mom was my best friend. If Aaron felt that way about Sookie I could see where he was coming from.
Once we got in the highway Sookie released my hand long enough to turn the radio on. I smiled when Hall & Oates started to play. Sookie had stepped up her music game. I was impressed.
“Remember when we stumbled on an impromptu Janis concert?” I asked. I was sure she did. It was one my favorite memories with her.
“Of course I remember. That’s something I’ll never forget and Aaron has never believed,” she told me.
I glanced at him in the mirror. It was too bad she died way before her time. “It was the best concert I’ve ever been to. I was glad I got to share it with your mom.” I lifted Sookie’s hand to kiss the back.
Aaron rolled his eyes and reached for a book.
“I told my mom about you guys,” I informed Sookie. She may have not even thought about Aaron having a whole new set of grandparents.
“What did she think about that?”
“She was just as shocked as I was. When I gave her all the facts she said she looks too young to be a grandma, but she’s proud of you for raising him all on your own. When I find my own place she’s going to fly out,” I told her. “She said she may even get Crabass to come.”
“Crabass?” Sookie gave me an amused look.
“Dad,” I chuckled. “That’s her pet name for him. He’s still just as grumpy.”
“So’s mine,” she said. “Well, I’m happy she’s okay with being a grandma. It’d be nice to meet her at some point.”
“She wants to meet you too. She’s always wanted to meet you.” I reached for another piece of beef jerky.
“Once we get things worked out and settled, I’m sure we can figure out a plan to have her come out for a visit,” Sookie said.
“Sounds good. She’ll probably try to fly back with me when I go to get my things. I’ll keep her at bay until everyone is ready.” I glanced back at Aaron. “She’s going to try to spoil the shit out of him, I can tell.”
“He won’t mind that a bit,” Sookie laughed.
I didn’t know if I should ask if JB’s family was in the picture. I did want to know that, though. I was sure Sookie could tell I wanted to ask. I wanted to wait until Aaron wasn’t listening to us.
We went silent as we headed toward Surf City. I was scared to ruin shit with Aaron before we got to know each other. So far he was a little bit of a jerk. I was going to keep trying. I didn’t quit on anything and I wasn’t going to quit on Aaron.