The last month had been an interesting. Aaron and I were making strides. The dogs helped. It gave us something to bond over. About a week after we brought the puppies home Aaron started getting up early with me to take the dogs for a run on the beach. He didn’t say anything to me. He would meet me at the back door with his running shoes on. He still had sleep in his eyes most of the time. We had a silent bond that was growing between us.
We hadn’t taken the time to talk much about ourselves, but that all changed when we decided to hop in the Camaro I bought a couple weeks before and drive down to Talladega for Father’s Day.
Sookie was excited but nervous about us leaving for the weekend together. Not because she didn’t trust me with him. I think it was more so because it was our first father/son alone time. Aaron didn’t call me dad. I was still just Eric. It was much better than asshole.
“You hungry?” I asked Aaron when we walked into the hotel room. It was his first weekend out of school. I was moved when he agreed to go on a weekend getaway with me. We were in Atlanta for the night. The next day we were going to a Braves game, and then heading over to Talladega for the races the day after that.
“I’m always hungry. You know that.”
“I do,” I chuckled. “Want to go grab some burgers?” Aaron had grown close to a half inch since I met him. He was easily going to be as tall as me or taller. He was already as taller than his mother.
“Burgers are good.” The kid didn’t turn down much.
“I think I saw a twenty-four-hour diner down the street. We can walk over.” I was over being in the car after seven plus hours. We had to stop twice for gas and snacks. “Want to call Mom to let her know we made it safely?”
“That’s probably a good idea or she’ll have state troopers banging down the door in an hour,” he chuckled.
I chuckled too. He was right. I walked over to the phone and picked it up to dial the number. It was going to cost us a little extra to call long distance but it was worth Sookie having peace of mind.
“Hello?” Sookie answered in her normal tone. Good, so she wasn’t panicked. Of course I heard Janis barking in the background. “Janis, hush it or I’m feedin’ you to the sharks.”
“Hey, gorgeous. You better not feed my girl to the sharks.” Janis was a daddy’s girl through and through. She still sat on my lap and wrapped her paws around my neck for hugs.
“As long as she pipes down she’s got nothing to worry about. How was the drive? I’m guessing you made it to Atlanta alright?”
“We did. We wanted to call before we walked down to the diner for burgers. Our growing boy is hungry.” I was too.
“Oh yeah? And what about the giant?” Sookie knew better.
“That diner doesn’t know what’s coming,” I snickered. “We’ll probably eat enough for five.”
“Sounds like my boys. I hope our next child is a girl,” she snickered.
“You sure you want to share me with another girl?” I saw Aaron make a gagging face out of the corner of my eye.
“If it means I don’t have to start cooking for nine instead of six, absolutely.”
“We’ll see what happens,” I chuckled. We weren’t trying just yet. We still had a few years. My sessions with Stan were really helping me. We mostly talked about everything. Never any one thing in particular. If I was having a rough day he was more than happy to answer my calls. “Do you want to talk to the boy?”
“If he wants to talk to me. If he’d rather go get dinner, I completely understand.”
“Aaron, would you like to talk to Mom?” I asked.
“Hi, Mom!” he yelled.
Sookie laughed and said, “I think that means go eat. Call me tomorrow night. I love you both.”
“We love you too. I’ll call you before we head out to the game.” Dad thought it was blasphemy I didn’t like baseball. Aaron loved it though, so we were going for him.
“Alright. Enjoy your dinner. I’ll talk to you tomorrow.” Sookie hung up.
“Mom loves you,” I told Aaron. I put my keys in my pocket, along with the hotel key in the other pocket. “I’m ready to eat a fuckin’ horse.” I usually didn’t censor my language around Aaron. Sookie told me I had more important things to worry about than language. Plus, at twelve he’d heard it all.
“Yeah, me too,” Aaron agreed. He opened the door to our room and waited for me out in the hallway. “You don’t snore, do you?”
“Nah. I know you do, though,” I said. He closed the door and I handed him the key to lock the door. He was also a very hard sleeper. Even if I did snore he would never know.
“It’s because of my tonsils,” he reasoned.
I nodded. That could be it. It could just be that he slept hard. Aaron handed me the key after he locked the door. We walked down the stairs, heading toward the diner.
We walked in silence to the diner. When we walked in there was a sign to sway ourselves. Aaron and I picked a booth toward the back so I had my back to a wall. Some things were never going to go away. My paranoia was something I could deal with. If it bothered Aaron I was a little different he didn’t say anything about it.
“So, how would you feel about going to California this summer?” I asked. I wasn’t sure if Sookie had brought it up. He was still getting used to me living with them.
“Really?” He looked excited by the idea. “Like Hollywood, California?”
“Yeah. San Francisco, Hollywood, and maybe San Diego if my brother can’t make it to Hollywood. I’d like him to meet you and your mother.”
“I’m in,” Aaron said without hesitating. “Maybe my future wife will be in town…”
“Could be,” I smiled. “I met your mom in San Francisco. Speaking of that… how would you feel if I asked your mom to marry me one day?” I wasn’t planning on it anytime soon, but I wanted to get it out there and let Aaron know where I wanted our relationship to lead.
For some reason, he looked surprised. “Really? Most guys get tired of me being in the picture and break up with her.”
“Aaron, I’m not going anywhere. You’re my son.” I hadn’t said it yet, but I felt it, so I thought it was as good a time as any. “I love you, Aaron. I know we have to get to know each other better but you’re my flesh and blood. I don’t look at you and Sookie as a ‘package deal’ I look at you as my family.”
“Yeah, but dads leave all the time. My friend Coby’s dad left,” he countered.
“I’m not leaving,” I promised. “You two make me a better person. I want to be a good father for you. Even if your mom and I broke up I’m not leaving you. You’re stuck with me, kid.”
“I know she wants to get married again. She hasn’t because of me,” he said.
“Well, now she has the chance. I would just need your blessing to ask. I know it’s been the two of you for a long time. I don’t want to step on your toes. I want us to be a family. Maybe even give you a sibling or two…”
“Yeah, I know Mom wants more babies too. She says she doesn’t but then every time she gets near a baby she loses her mind and goes crazy cooing and cuddling it,” he told me.
“We’ll see how she feels after having Charlie and Janis all to herself for a weekend,” I chuckled as the waitress walked up to greet us.
“Hello, I’m Dawn. What can I get y’all this evenin’?” she asked. Aaron’s pre-teen eyes were fixed on her boobs.
I shook my head. “I’ll take a Coke and a double cheeseburger.”
“How do you want that cooked, hun?” Dawn asked as she made notes on her pad.
“Well done please.”
“You got it. What about you, sugar?” Dawn looked over at Aaron, who was immediately blushing.
“Uh… Cheeseburger,” he sort of stammered. “And fries.”
Dawn smiled and said, “Fries come with it, honey. What do you want to drink?”
“Comin’ right up.” Dawn winked at him and I thought his little head was going to explode.
“She’s a pretty girl,” I smiled at my son. “We need to work on your confidence.”
“I’m confident,” Aaron answered quickly. “She was just prettier than I expected. I thought the waitress would be some old lady with blue hair that smelled like cigarettes.”
“Sorry I didn’t warn you,” I chuckled. I saw her walking up. He still needed to work on confidence. He couldn’t let the pretty girls know they flustered him. “Has your mom told you about how we met?”
“She said Aunt Hadley introduced you,” he told me.
“Your Aunt Hadley took your underage mother into a bar,” I laughed. “She was seventeen and the prettiest girl I’d ever seen. I was bartending at the bar and when Hadley went to go talk to some guy she left your mother all alone. I stepped in to keep her company.”
“Yeah, Aunt Hadley told me mom used to smoke pot, too.” Aaron didn’t look as surprised as I expected, but hearing that explained why.
“She did. We smoked it together. She was cute,” I laughed. I didn’t tell him how she smoked it the first few times.
“I think she still does it sometimes. Before we left for D.C. I smelled something funny when I got up to go to the bathroom in the middle of the night.”
“She might.” If she did she hadn’t told me. “She was very timid when I met her. She was still scared of your grandfather then.”
“I kinda think she still is. He’s not very nice to her,” he said. “I don’t mind that they live far away. It’s kinda been okay just me and her.”
“We have that in common. My dad isn’t very nice to me either,” I confessed. “We spend more time fighting than getting along.”
“He’s a military man so he’s always been tough on my brother and me. He wanted me to join the Marines as soon as I turned eighteen and volunteer to go to Vietnam. Even though I went he’s pissed that I was taken against my will and didn’t offer. He can’t wrap his head around it. It’s better for both of us that I’m not in Denver anymore with him.”
“Your dad is an idiot,” Aaron said. “I thought my dad died in that war. Your dad doesn’t know what he’s talking about.”
Dawn brought our drinks and set them on the table in front of us. Aaron ignored her that time. I could tell he was pissed off.
“Thank you,” I nodded at Dawn.
“You’re welcome. Burgers will be out in a minute.” Dawn turned and walked away from our booth.
“Why would a dad want his son to go somewhere and die? That’s just dumb.”
“Believe me, I know. To him it’s not about sending us to die, it’s about us defending our country. I love America just as much as the next guy, but I sure as hell didn’t want to go defend the it in a war we shouldn’t have even been in in the first place.”
“Like I said, your dad is an idiot,” Aaron said with conviction.
“He is.” I was glad we agreed on something. “You’ll really like my mother. She’s going to want to spoil you.”
“I like being spoiled,” he grinned. The kid was my fuckin’ mirror image.
“Well, we were talking about renting an RV and driving over to Colorado to meet my parents. Your mother needs to meet them still too,” I said. “Would you mind being in an RV for a while?” I could talk to Sookie about him bringing a friend.
“As long as I don’t have to hear you and Mom doin’ it,” he said matter of factly.
“We’ll do our best to stay quiet,” I chuckled.
Dawn came back with our burgers. They looked delicious. We were also starving. We hadn’t had a big meal in a couple hours.
Aaron and I went quiet as we ate. It was too tasty to worry about talking. We’d had a little breakthrough so far. Just hoped it only got better going forward. Doing things that the other liked together was a really good start for us. I was sure I’d find a new appreciation for baseball and hoped he’d learn to enjoy car races. It was baby steps, but they were steps in the right direction. Hopefully one day he would look at me and call me Dad. If and when that happened Sookie was going to have to help hold me together.