Our house was literally right on the beach. It was more than big enough for Aaron and me. There was a nice deck in the back and a staircase that led to the sand. The house had to be lifted because of the tide, but so far we hadn’t had such severe storms that we had flooded out or anything. We had a carport under the house with enough space for three cars. If Eric ended up moving in with us, his car would fit under the house just fine. As it was, I used that space for entertaining when we had people over.
Outside the house was covered in lavender stained cedar plank siding. The house was very open and airy, with plenty of windows and two sets of sliding doors off of the living room and dining area. I could really only afford to buy it initially because of the life insurance I had inherited after JB died. He’d taken out plenty of policies so that I would be taken care of if something happened. Part of me often wondered if he knew he wasn’t coming home.
When we pulled up to the house, I was more than happy to be done with the drive. It had taken just over eight hours with the breaks we took for gas and to eat lunch. Aaron went right to the trunk to get our bags out to bring them inside. In spite of the crap he was pulling with Eric, my son actually did have manners.
“Here we are. Home sweet home,” I said once Eric and I were also out of the car. I left the Mustang parked in the driveway instead of pulling into the carport.
“It’s gorgeous, Sookie,” he smiled over at me. “It looks so serene.”
“It’s pretty fantastic,” I agreed. “A lot of these houses here on this little island are summer rentals, so it gets pretty quiet during the winter months.”
I followed Eric to the trunk so he could get his bags from the car since Aaron hadn’t grabbed his things too. I closed the trunk so I could lead him to the stairs that would take us up to the house. It was all one level, which I loved. It made doing laundry a heck of a lot easier.
“Make yourself at home,” I said, gesturing for Eric to go in ahead of me.
“Thanks. I don’t know how comfortable I’m going to be for a while. I’m going to have to watch my back while Aaron is still trying to sabotage me,” he sighed as he stepped inside.
“Yeah, he and I are going to have a talk about that,” I told him.
“I get it. I’m sure I would have done the same thing if I was in his shoes.”
“That doesn’t make it okay.” I closed the door. “Feel free to look around. My bedroom is that way.” I pointed to the door across from us. My room was right behind the living room. “The guest room is down on the hall on the left.”
“Thanks. I better drop my stuff in the guest room before I get to your room,” he chuckled. “If not I may not leave your room.”
“You’d get pretty bored in there. I have to get a load of laundry started. My old washing machine takes a while.”
“You know I’ve always been a fan of naps.” It was closer to bedtime.
“That’s true. I think I’ll probably toss some burgers on the grill if you’re interested,” I offered. Burgers were easy enough to cook. They didn’t take a whole lot of time or effort.
“I can do that if you want. Or anything else. I’ve been working on my cooking skills since I’ve been home.”
“Okay,” I nodded. “Well, then I’ll let you be in charge of burgers. Do you have anything that needs washing?”
“Yeah, but I can do that when you’re done. You don’t need t–”
“Don’t be silly. If you have something, just add it to the pile,” I insisted. “Aaron has chores to do around here too, so don’t let him fool you.”
“I don’t want him washing my clothes,” Eric said. “He’d probably have an ‘oops’ with the bleach right now.”
“I do the laundry. Aaron washes dishes, puts them away, takes out garbage, cleans his bathroom, sweeps the floor… He’s a pretty good kid; minus this bullshit he’s pulling to test you.” I was pretty sure that was what he was doing. He was testing to see what he could get away with where Eric was concerned.
“Okay. I don’t mind helping out around here too.”
“Don’t worry about that right now. Just go get yourself settled.”
“Thank you, Sookie.” Eric leaned down to kiss the corner of my mouth.
I watched him walk down the hall toward the guest bedroom. Once he was in I went on to my own room. My bag was sitting on my bed. I assumed Aaron had gone to his room. All of a sudden Van Halen started blaring out of the speakers in my son’s room. I sighed and sank down on the bed. I understood his aggravation and there was probably a better way to tell him about Eric, but what was done was done. He was getting a few more days to work this out before I started to reel him back in. I could only let him be a jerk for so long before enough was enough.
I got up to start unpacking my stuff. There was a knock on the door and I turned to see Eric in the doorway, holding some of his clothes.
“Where should I put these?”
“Oh, I’ll take them.” I reached out to take the clothes from him.
“Are you sure you don’t want me to wash these myself?” He let them go. Eric stood there for a moment looking around the room.
“I’m sure. There’ll be room in the load for them. I usually do laundry every other day. If I remember right, you hate laundry.” Mostly because in his building there wasn’t a machine so he had to go to a laundromat to clean his clothes. That was a pain in the ass.
“I loathe it,” he confirmed. “I hate to say it, but since I moved home my mom does my laundry. Is it bad that I haven’t moved out yet?”
“Only if you’ve stayed just for the laundry service.”
“No, it’s mostly because every time I go to look at a place she makes sure she comes with me and finds an issue with every place I look at.”
“Ah so she’s trying to keep you all to herself.”
“It’s says something that she’s willing to let me go to be near you.” Eric walked over so he could take a seat on the bed.
“I suppose it does. It probably helps that this is where your son is.”
“It does. I think she would have let me go for just you. She knows I feel comfortable with you.”
The Van Halen got louder and a few seconds later Aaron appeared with some of his dirty clothes.
“Thank you, Aaron. Will you please turn the music down a little bit?” I politely asked him.
“I’ll just close the door again,” he shrugged.
“Aaron.” I gave him the Mom look.
“What?” he said defiantly.
“Turn the music down, please,” I requested with a little more ice in my voice.
“Fine,” he huffed. Aaron turned to storm out of the room.
“Hey! Do you want a burger?” I asked. I assumed he did, but I wasn’t going to have Eric cook him one if he didn’t.
I didn’t get an answer from him. A few seconds later I heard the door slam.
“Do you want me to go ask him?” Eric offered.
“No, just let him be pissed off. He’ll get over it.” I picked up the load of laundry to go get it started. Aaron didn’t bother to turn his music down.
Once the wash was working, I went further down the hall to Aaron’s room and knocked on the door.
He yanked the door open a few seconds later.
“I know you’re mad at me right now and that’s okay. Be mad. Get it out of your system. But let me tell you something. Just because you’re mad it doesn’t mean you can be disrespectful to me or rude to Eric. The lying isn’t acceptable and neither is the attitude. So I’m going to tell you one more time to turn the music down.” If he didn’t, he knew I’d confiscate the stereo. I’d done it before.
His shoulders sagged before he turned to walk over to his stereo. He turned the music down to an acceptable level and then plopped down on his bed.
“Thank you. Do you want a cheeseburger for dinner?” I asked since I sort of had his attention.
“Okay,” I nodded. I stepped into the room and closed the door. “I need you to do me a favor.”
“What kind of favor?”
“I need you to keep in mind that Eric saw a lot of terrible things and when you trick him like you did today, that doesn’t help him. He’s not like just any other person. He wants to get to know you and he wants to be your dad, and he knows you’re upset right now so he’s not pushing it. Please, just try to remember that he needs your patience as much as you need his right now.”
“What if I don’t want him to be my dad? We’ve done just fine without him this long.”
“I can’t make you accept him, Aaron. If you decide you don’t want him to be your dad, that would be disappointing to me. I know it would hurt him pretty bad. I think you would be robbing yourself of a great relationship, but I can’t force you to want him in your life if you don’t,” I said.
Aaron nodded. He had a grump on his face when he said, “I’ll give him a chance.”
“Thank you.” I appreciated that he was willing to do that. “You know… I was thinking… Well, you know how you’ve been wanting to get a dog–”
“A dog?” He sat up quickly. “When can we go get one?”
“How about after school tomorrow?”
“Yes. Maybe I don’t have to go to school? We can go get a dog instead?”
“You think you should get to miss a day to get a dog?”
“Yeah. I’m going to need time to pick out the perfect one.”
I chuckled and shook my head. Given the circumstances and everything I’d thrown at him in the last three days, I decided to cut the kid a break.
“Okay, you can miss a day,” I told him.
“Yes!” he celebrated with a fist pump.
Okay, so I was probably bribing my kid a little bit, but if a dog would help him get out of the slump he was in, I was all for it. Besides, I really had been thinking about getting a dog.
“You know you’re going to be responsible for it, right?” I reminded him.
“I know. I’ll even take it on a walk every day after school,” he promised.
“You better. I’d hate to send a dog back to the pound because it’s not being taken care of.”
“You won’t have to take it back. I promise.”
“Good. I hope so. Do you know what kind of dog you want?”
“No. I want to see them all. I won’t know until I meet the perfect one.”
“Okay, well, we’ll go tomorrow morning so you have plenty of time to pick the perfect dog.”
“You’re welcome. We’ll let you know when dinner is ready.” I let myself out of the room and closed the door. Eric was in the kitchen taking in the lay of the land. “Well, it looks like we’re going to look at dogs tomorrow.”
“Oh yeah? Bribery?” he guessed.
“Sort of. He’s been wanting a dog since he was about four. I told him not until he was big enough to take care of it. He’s old enough now to take on that responsibility. If a dog will help him snap out of this funk, then so be it. Before I agreed to the dog, he did say he would give you a chance, so there’s that.”
“You’ve always had pretty good negotiating skills.” He held out his arms for a hug as I moved closer.
I gave Eric a hug and let out a deep breath.
“I also told him he needs to knock it off when it comes to tricking you.”
“Thank you.” He wrapped his arms around me pretty tight. I felt his big hands rub up and down my back. “I honestly don’t know how long I’d be able to deal with shit like that.”
“He knows what happened with James and I don’t think he would want to be the reason that someone else snapped like that,” I told Eric.
“I don’t think I’d go that far. I’m sure I’d walk out before I did anything like that to either of you.” I felt his lips on the top of my head. “The beach is nice. I think it’ll be a nice way to relieve stress.”
I didn’t want to say that James thought the same thing and so did Jessica. There was no way of knowing what might tip the scales or when it might happen.
“The beach is very good for that. I go running three times a week on the beach. It’s a great workout for the legs.”
“Indeed it is. Is it bad that I don’t want to let you go to cook burgers?”
“We could just order pizza. Aaron’ll eat the kitchen sink if I cover it in ketchup,” I snickered.
“That would work. You can use the phone with a giant attached to you,” he smiled.
I laughed and asked, “What do you want on your pizza?”
“Meat. Where’s the phone? I can carry you to it.”
“It’s behind you on the wall.”
He looked back before he reached for it. “Do you know the number?” he asked as he handed me the phone.
“I do. I’ll take care of it.” I walked the few steps over to where the phone was mounted on the wall, and punched in the number to the pizza place.
I ordered two pizzas, knowing we probably wouldn’t have much leftover. It was going to take almost an hour for the food to get to the house, but that was pretty normal. At least I would have time to finish unpacking and get the first load of laundry into the dryer. I wasn’t the least bit surprised when Eric followed me back to my bedroom.
“Sorry the bed in the guest room is probably a little small for you.” It was only a full size. I had gotten a king because Aaron used to sneak into my room when he was little and that kid moved all over the place in his sleep.
“You could always take the spare room and I’ll take this bed,” he joked. “Sookie, I slept on the couch at Hoyt’s. A bed is wonderful no matter what size it is.”
“Give it a few more days with Aaron and he might be okay with you sneaking in here at night.”
“I know how to be stealthy. I can sneak in without him knowing.”
“Oh I have no doubt you’re slick. I’ve seen you in action.”
“I don’t really sleep a whole lot these days,” he said quietly. “The nightmares are getting better. They don’t happen as often as they used to but it’s still easier not to sleep.”
“You can’t live like that, Eric. Sleep is so important. It helps keep you mentally healthy.”
“Mom suggested acupuncture once. I didn’t do it. I usually get four or five hours of broken sleep. At home I’m up before dawn to start on my morning workout.”
“Maybe just being in a place where you feel safe and secure will help you sleep better,” I suggested. “Are you seeing a therapist?” If he wasn’t he probably should have been.
“No, not now. I went to one when I first came home. I saw him for a couple years before I just stopped going. I knew I wasn’t completely better but I felt like he didn’t have any more help to offer me. It’s hard talking to someone about the shit that’s getting to you when they’ve never been through it. They don’t get it.”
Right away I was sure I knew someone who could help him.
“Since we’re so close to Camp Lejeune there are several former Marines who have taken up mental health practices. I happen to know a guy by the name of Stan Davis who you might be interested in talking to. He served during Korea,” I told him. “He’s in a wheelchair now thanks to his plane being shot down.”
“Would it make you feel better if I saw him?” Eric asked me. He walked over to my bed to take a seat. He patted his leg to get me to join him.
“I think it would make you feel better.” I took a seat on his knee. “I’m not worried that you would snap and try to hurt me. I am worried that you are doing yourself more harm than good by just accepting the things you saw. I know it’ll always be with you, but it doesn’t have to rule you, you know?”
He nodded. “I’m not opposed to therapy, just so you know. I want to be good for you and Aaron. I want to be able to provide for you guys and be a healthy role model for him. I’ll go talk to your friend Stan.”
“I’ll call him tomorrow. Just meet him and see if you guys can find some common ground,” I said. “If it doesn’t work out, it doesn’t work out.”
Eric reached up to turn my face to his. His eyes flicked down to my lips before he leaned in for a lingering peck. His lips on mine was just one more thing I never thought I’d experience again, but there it was. I felt the same butterflies that I felt thirteen years ago. Their wings flapped all over my chest and stomach. It was a good feeling.
It was the kind of feeling I hadn’t really felt for anyone else but Eric. I never felt it with JB and I felt little sparks here and there, but nothing like I did with him. Who knew that after all the time that had passed and all the experiences that had come along to change us, the way we felt about each other was the one thing that would remain the same? I never would have thought it was possible. I just hoped that Aaron could let go of his anger and realize what a gift he was being given.