Hadley practically had to pull Eric and me apart at the end of the night. I could have blamed the whiskey and the pot, but it wasn’t just the influence of the drug. At least I hoped it wasn’t. Eventually I let her pull me out of the bowling alley and out to her Bel Aire. The cool air felt good on my flushed face. My lips were still a little swollen from kissing. Eric was a really good kisser.
“What? Why are you looking at me like that?”
“Because you’ve been out of Louisiana for less than twenty-four hours and you’ve already picked up one of the best lookin’ guys in town.”
“I did not,” I scoffed. “He picked me up.”
“I didn’t see that happening, is all,” she snorted. “Is he as good at kissing as he looks like he’d be?”
“I don’t have a lot of experience to draw from, but I liked it.” I liked it a lot.
“Are you going to see him again?” she asked as she pulled out of the parking lot.
“He asked me for a date tomorrow night. That’s not too fast, is it?” I wasn’t sure how old Eric was, but I was sure he was older than me by a few years. He had to be if he was tending bar.
“I don’t think so. Heck, I probably would have gone home with him the first night I met him if it hadn’t been for a guy that looked eerily like Jim Morrison I ended up going home with. Eric’s a good guy. I trust him,” she told me.
“He’s not too old for me? I haven’t had a boyfriend before. He’ll probably get bored with me before the date is over.”
“I don’t think so. You’re an interesting girl, Sookie. I don’t think he would have asked you on a date if he wasn’t seriously interested. And no, I don’t think he’s too old. He’s twenty-two.”
“Daddy would have a heart attack,” I laughed. “I’m not that interesting. I don’t even know what I want to do with my life. I’ll probably just get married–”
“You are interesting and you can do whatever you want. You don’t have to settle for marrying some guy just to make your dad happy.”
“But I never really thought about doing anything else,” I admitted.
“You have plenty of time to figure out what you want to do. Being here in San Francisco is the perfect opportunity to figure something out.”
“What are you doing for work?” I hadn’t asked her.
“Right now I work at the skating rink while I go to school. I want to be a nurse,” she smiled. “I wasn’t too sure what I wanted to do until last year so… I’m a little late to the game.”
“Not that late. Besides, I thought you wanted to marry Jim Morrison,” I laughed. I wasn’t sure why that was suddenly so funny to me, but I laughed so hard I had tears rolling down my cheeks.
“I do want to marry him, but he’s on tour so I haven’t had a chance to meet him yet. What’s so fun– You’re high, aren’t you? Eric got you high!”
I stopped laughing.
“You’re lying,” she laughed. “I knew I smelled pot in the office when I caught you two sucking face.”
“Okay, he might have blown some smoke in my mouth…” That, in my opinion, was the best way to smoke pot.
“Oh my God!” she laughed again. “He was totally trying to kiss you. That’s why he did that, I just know it. It seems to have worked in his favor. Are you going to inhale pot with him again?” she giggled.
“I bet you will. Probably when he takes you back to his place at the end of the date tomorrow.”
“You think he will? What for?”
“So he can make out with you some more and I won’t be there to peel you two apart.”
“Well kissin’ isn’t so bad. I liked it,” I said.
“You know kissin’ leads to sex, right? Are you prepared to have sex with him if it starts to get more serious?”
“I’m supposed to wait for marriage, Hadley,” I reminded her.
She gave me a look that told me she didn’t think I’d be waiting that long.
“Don’t give me that look.” I couldn’t just go being intimate with every man who showed me some interest. Never mind what my daddy would say; I wasn’t okay with that lifestyle.
“I’m going to stop givin’ the look right now,” she promised. She gave it to me one more time before she looked ahead.
We went quiet for a minute. She turns on the radio and a band I didn’t know was playing.
“What if I get pregnant?” I asked out of nowhere. My parents didn’t ever really have one of those talks with me. My father was convinced I would be a virgin for life. All my mother ever really said was it was best to wait for marriage so that if I had a baby, it would be okay.
“Then you’re going to have a baby. If you don’t plan on havin’ sex until marriage you don’t have to worry.”
“What if he has other plans? I used to hear Jason and his friends all the time saying how rude it is to turn a guy down,” I told her.
Hadley looked over at me once she stopped at the light. “Eric isn’t the type of guy to take advantage of you, Sookie. If you say no, he’ll stop. I’ve known him for a couple years now and I’ve learned he’s genuinely a good guy. He know’s you’re young. I don’t think he’d think you were rude if you turned him down.”
“But what if I say no and he keeps going?” It happened to my friend Amelia and everyone said it was her fault for leading the guy on.
“Then you knee him in the balls and run like hell. I’ll make sure you have a quarter so you can call me from a payphone if you need to.”
“Have you and Eric ever… you know…”
“No, we haven’t. It could have happened when we first met but it didn’t. Now I don’t look at him as a sexual partner.”
“Good. It would be weird if you went out with him first,” I said. I didn’t think I could date him if Hadley did first. “Well, at least Aunt Lin will be excited. She was talking about me dating someone this afternoon. Hey, is that bread I smell?”
“Yep,” she said, popping the P. “The bakery isn’t open now, but we can go get fresh bread in the morning if you want.”
“Your mom wants to go to the wharf for it, I think.”
“It’s fun there. There’s a restaurant/bakery thing that makes the best bread at the wharf.”
“I can’t wait to try it fresh. She made me a grilled cheese with it earlier. You know what sounds good right now? A cheeseburger.”
“There’s an all night diner if you wanna go get one,” she offered.
“Only if you do. If you don’t I can live without it.” It had to be the pot talking.
“I can always have pancakes,” she chuckled. “We can get it to go if you don’t want to stay. Your boyfriend might be there,” she teased.
I laughed and said, “He’s not my boyfriend. Pancakes sound good too. Oh, and mashed potatoes.”
“You’re high off of the good stuff,” she laughed.
“You mean the pot or the boy?”
“Both,” she smirked. Hadley made a left. I could see the sign for the diner down the road.
“So what’s the deal with that guy Al you were talking to?” He wasn’t going to win any Jim Morrison look alike contests in my opinion, but there was a vague resemblance. Maybe if he wore sunglasses and I wasn’t that close I might think it was him.
“We’ve been talking for a while. I’ve fooled around with him a couple times too. He’s a rollin’ stone, though. It would be hard to get him to settle down. Nothing but fun for now.”
“Isn’t that all you want anyway?”
“It is,” she shrugged. “I don’t want to settle while I’m in school.”
“Jim might show up anytime, right?” If we weren’t turning into the diner’s parking lot I would have rolled my window down.
“Exactly,” she giggled. Hadley parked her car, turning it off once she was in park.
We got out of the car and walked into the diner. To my surprise it wasn’t even close to empty. Back home everything was closed by eight o’clock, including the gas station. If you needed anything you had to go to Monroe or Shreveport. That was a long way to go for milk or eggs if you weren’t a farmer. The sign at the door told us to seat ourselves. Hadley found us a booth toward the back. I could honestly say I had never gone out for a cheeseburger at midnight. It was one more thing I could add to my list of firsts.
Eric looked handsome. He was sitting across from me at a restaurant not far from Aunt Linda’s house. His eyes were so sparkly. They were expressive, too. I felt like anything I wanted to know I could read in his eyes. The shirt he was wearing helped to set them off. I didn’t even mind that he had longer hair than I normally liked on a boy.
“What would you recommend?” I figured Eric had been to the restaurant before.
“Depends. Are you a meat eater?” he asked me.
“I am. Are you?”
“I am. I love a big steak,” he chuckled. “They have a great sirloin. The chicken breast is pretty good too.”
“I think I’ll try the chicken. I’m really picky about steak. Hardly anyone cooks it right to me.” I found the chicken he was talking about in my menu. It sounded good based on the description. I closed my menu and set it aside.
“I’ll let you taste my steak if you want,” he offered. Eric closed his menu too. He reached across the table to take my hand so he could play with my fingers.
“So can I ask how old you are?” Hadley said he was twenty-two, but I wanted to make sure of it.
“I’ll be twenty-three in August,” he answered. “Am I too old?”
“I don’t think so. I’m a little worried I’m too boring for you,” I confessed. I had been on a few dates with a boy back home, but it was never anything serious.
“Because you’re so much younger? I don’t find you boring at all. I wouldn’t have asked you out if I thought you’d be boring,” he said.
“Maybe you just like kissing me.”
“I like kissing you very much,” he smiled. “That doesn’t mean I don’t want to get to know you better.”
“What do you want to know?”
“All sorts of things. What’s your favorite thing about Louisiana?” he started.
“Well it’s home, for starters. I like that it’s not like any other state I’ve been to. Folks are friendly and there’s all sorts of myths, legends and beliefs there. My Gran’s old housekeeper used to practice Hoodoo. I don’t know if i believe in it, but Lettie Mae sure did. Gran must too, at least some, since she salts the house and puts brick dust by the doors to keep evil out of the house,” I told him.
“I can honestly tell you I’ve never met anyone that knows anything about Hoodoo,” he smiled. “Why did you agree to come on this date with me?” was his second question.
“Would it be really shallow if I said it’s because you’re a great kisser?” At the time he asked, I didn’t know much else about him.
“Not at all,” he chuckled. “If you want I’ll kiss you again after dinner.”
“I might like that. You know, if you want to.”
“I want to. It was really hard not to just take you back to my place and cook dinner for you so I can kiss you whenever I get the urge.”
“You know how to cook?” I was impressed by that. Maybe because most of the boys I knew never bothered to learn how to do it. They went from eating mama’s cooking to their wife’s.
“I do. My mom taught me how. She knew I wasn’t going to stick around Colorado after high school and wanted to make sure I could survive on my own.”
“Smart mom. Why did you leave Colorado? Is it that bad there?” I had never been to Colorado so I couldn’t say.
“It’s not bad at all. My dad was really strict. He wanted me to join the military but I knew that wasn’t for me, you know? My little brother plans to join when he turns eighteen. He’s thirteen now so he has a few years. Plus, it never really felt like home to me.”
“My brother got drafted. He’s in the Marines now. He’s been in Vietnam for more than a year.” It had been a while since I last got a letter, but it wasn’t like there was a mailbox on every corner.
“Man, I’m sorry,” he frowned. “I’m nervous I’m going to get the letter any day. I don’t agree with war, so I really don’t want to go. If I get drafted… it’s just not going to be fun for me.”
“I don’t think it’s fun for anyone. I’ve been to too many funerals in the last two years,” I said sadly.
“I’ve been to a few too.” Eric looked around before asking, “Do you want to get out of here? We haven’t ordered yet. I can make us something instead.”
The wait was a little ridiculous since the restaurant wasn’t that busy. At the rate our server was moving we’d be ordering breakfast.
“I think we have a better chance of eating sometime tonight if we do.”
Eric stood up from the booth we were in. He dropped a five on the table for our drinks and then held out his hand for me. I took it and stood up to follow him out. He was driving a black Chevy Impala that would have made Daddy clean his shotgun. Eric was polite and opened the passenger’s door for me. I got into the car and reached over to unlock his door for him.
“Thanks,” he smiled when he got in. He surprised me when he leaned over to kiss me. “Mmm, I’ll probably do that a lot tonight,” he whispered when he pulled back.
“Promise?” I liked the butterflies flapping around in my gut.
“I promise.” He started up the car and then set his hand on my thigh.
We weren’t too far from Eric’s apartment so the drive didn’t take too long. He parked under a carport, finally taking his hand off of my leg. He threw the car in park before turning it off. Eric got out of the car and walked around to let me out.
“I don’t know what I have to make for dinner. We may end up with pancakes,” he said as I followed him to his apartment.
“I like pancakes, so you’re in luck,” I replied.
“Good. They’re one of my go-to meals,” he said over his shoulder. We walked up a flight of stairs to the second floor. Eric put the key in the door to unlock it. “Ladies first.” He opened the door so I could walk in first.
I stepped in ahead of him. I took note of a pair of doors, probably for a closet, in a short hallway that opened up into the living room. The furnishings were a little sparse, but I expected as much for a bachelor. There was a kitchen off to the left that had a small table in it. Eric turned on the lights, allowing me to see things a bit better.
“It’s a nice place,” I told him. “The couch looks comfortable.”
“It is. It’s super soft. It’s a good napping couch,” he chuckled. “I’d say we should sit on it but I won’t want to get up to cook for you.” His hand rubbed down my back, ending on my butt.
“I could cook,” I offered.
“We could cook together,” he offered. He leaned down to kiss the side of my neck. “I may get distracted by your beautiful face so having someone to keep me on task may not be a bad idea.”
“Or I’ll just keep you distracted.”
“I like being distracted by you.” His lips skimmed along my neck up to my jaw. He was standing behind me with his hands on my hips. His body was warm against my back.
I liked that he was distracted by me too. I liked it a little too much. Part of me was tempted to tell him to forget about dinner, and continue with being distracted. The problem was, I hardly knew him. I didn’t want Eric to think I was too easy. He probably figured out I was a virgin since I barely had the kissing thing figured out. At the same time I didn’t want him to think I was a tease or not interested in him. It felt like there had to be a balance somewhere, but I didn’t know where it was.
I told myself not to lose confidence, that Eric had to be interested in more than my body. I was the only one he knew that knew anything about Hoodoo. Back home just about everyone knew. Whether or not they believed it was another story. My friend Tara, Lettie’s daughter, had been through an exorcism the previous summer. I wasn’t sure she needed a preacher to release her demons as much as she needed a mama who put down the bottle and paid her some attention. Lettie’s drinking was what got her fired from working for Gran.
Gran discovered that things were going missing around the house. When she found an antique vase at a consignment shop, she asked the owner where it came from. The owner described a woman who looked like Lettie. Rather than calling the police about it, Gran paid to get her other things back and then confronted Lettie with the evidence of her theft. Lettie begged for forgiveness and blamed the theft on having to raise a child alone, but her drinking was well documented. Police had to be called regularly. Gran, being a good christian woman, tried to minister to Lettie to help her give up the drink, but it was no good. Lettie showing up to work drunk was the last straw for Gran.
“We should probably get dinner started,” I quietly said when Eric’s kisses started to whip up the butterflies in my gut.
He pulled back slightly before tilting his head to kiss me again. That kiss only lasted a few seconds before he pulled away again. He shook his head like he was trying to clear it.
“That’s probably a really good idea,” Eric agreed.
“They sound good to me,” he smiled. “You want eggs too?” Eric took my hand to lead me to the kitchen.
“Sure,” I nodded. The kitchen wasn’t very big, but I supposed he didn’t need a whole lot of room in there. “What can I do?”
“You can go to that cabinet.” He pointed to one next to the sink. “And get the dry ingredients. I’ll grab eggs and milk.”
“Okay.” I went to the cabinet he pointed out and searched for flour, sugar and baking powder. It didn’t take long to find all three. I set them in the counter in front of me and closed the cabinet door. “I’d go crazy in this kitchen if I had to bake bread in here.”
“Why’s that?” he chuckled.
“Because you have such a tiny table and bread making is a big operation.”
“Should I invest in a bigger table for you?” He bent over to grab two pans.
“I won’t be in town long enough to make it worth your trouble.”
“That’s too bad.” He looked like he was serious. Eric reached for a bowl to mix the pancakes in and set next to me. “You want to mix?”
“Sure. You should know I’m only here until the second week of August. It’s not a lot of time, so I understand if you don’t want to get too involved.”
“I don’t want to stop whatever this is between us… are you still in high school?”
“Yes. I’ll be starting my senior year.”
“You know I could always come visit you… or you could come back here after school,” he offered. “We can wait until the end summer to make that decision.”
“I don’t know if I could move out of Louisiana forever. I’d miss my family too much.”
“This is our first date. I think talking about either one of us moving anywhere is way too soon,” he smiled. His big hand rubbed up and down my back. “How about we take this one date at a time?”
I completely agreed with that, although for the sake of argument, he was the one who had brought the whole thing up. I didn’t see much point in arguing over it, though. For the moment, I tried to ignore the feeling of his hands on my body while I got to work mixing up pancake batter.