When Eric dropped me off the next morning, Aunt Linda was sitting on the couch. She looked a little ticked off, so I wondered if she’d been waiting up for me all night. She’d never said I had to be home by a certain time, but I don’t think that meant I could stay all night either.
“Hi,” I said sheepishly as I closed the door.
“Where have you been?” she asked me.
“Eric’s apartment,” I admitted. “We didn’t have sex.”
“I wish you would have told me you weren’t coming home, Sookie. I’m lax on my parenting, but I worry about you.”
“I’m sorry, Aunt Linda. I didn’t plan on staying over. We were talkin’ and we just got tired. He asked me if I wanted to stay and I didn’t want to call and wake you up,” I explained. I felt bad for lying to her. I wasn’t exactly being as truthful as I should have been.
“Uh huh, well, it’s time to meet him. Next time you hang out with him I want to meet him first,” she said.
“I’m okay with that. He’s uh, he’s a little older than me,” I said, even though I was sure she had figured that out already. Hadley might have even talked about him before.
“How much older?”
“He’s twenty-two.” Daddy would flip his lid and forbid it immediately. Heck, he’d probably even call the police if he caught Eric looking at me.
She snickered and said, “We’re definitely not telling your dad. Once I meet him I’ll see how I feel about you staying the night with him. I need his phone number too.”
“Sure, I can get you that. I uh, I actually don’t have it,” I admitted. He never gave it to me and for some silly reason I never thought to ask for it.
“I hope you get it, and his last name, before this relationship goes any further. I trust you, Sookie. I know you two will probably do things your father would never be comfortable with. I don’t want to know, I just don’t want you to do anything unless you trust him,” she said.
“I won’t, I promise. He wants to take me down to Monterey tomorrow.”
“Monterey is lovely,” she smiled. “I’ll make sure to be here in the morning to meet him when he picks you up. If he gives me a bad vibe, you’re not going, I hope you know that.”
“He won’t give you a bad vibe. He’s a really nice guy, Aunt Lin.” I was biased, of course, but he was.
“I’ll take your word for it. And form my own opinion,” she smiled.
“That’s fair. I’m sorry about last night. I promise it won’t happen again.”
“Please don’t. If you stay over with him I’d like to know. I’d also like to get his address. Does Hadley know him?”
“Yes, Hadley knows him. He tends bar at the bowling alley,” I told her. Maybe Aunt Lin even knew him.
She thought for a few seconds before saying, “The big blonde guy? Eric Northman?”
“Yes, that’s him.”
“Oh, Sookie, he’s cute. I accept you dating him.”
“Really? Just like that?” Daddy’s test would have been much more rigorous.
“I’ve met him a few times at the bar. He’s a good kid,” she nodded. “I know your father would disagree. He’s not here, though, is he?”
“No, he’s not. Eric he uh, he blew smoke in my mouth the other night,” I confessed. “That was interesting…” I wasn’t sure how I felt about being high. It wasn’t terrible, but I wasn’t sure it was something I wanted to do all the time.
“Pot smoke?” she giggled. “A lot better than taking it straight, isn’t it?”
“I didn’t choke on it as much.”
“That’s good. You don’t strike me as being a habitual pot smoker. Hadley isn’t either.”
“It’s for the better. If I go home with a habit, Daddy’ll have me committed.”
“Indeed he will. He’d also send the cops after me.”
“Maybe he needs to smoke a joint,” I snickered.
“There’s no maybe about it. He needs to take the edge off bad,” she laughed.
“Don’t get me wrong, I believe in God and I always will, but I don’t think I can live my life the way he wants me to.” It was scary to think about leaving home for good. I didn’t really know anything else.
“You don’t have to. You’re almost a legal adult. It’s only a matter of time before you can strike out on your own. If he wants to keep you around he’ll change his way of thinking. I know your daddy loves you and wants what’s best for you. That doesn’t mean what he thinks is right or best is correct.”
“You know how it is. What he says goes.”
“For now,” she shrugged.
“It’s scary thinkin’ of goin’ up against him.”
“I know, but it’ll open his eyes and make him respect you more if you stand up to him. He married your mother for a reason,” she reminded me.
I supposed that was true, but Daddy didn’t handle defiance very well.
The bedroom door opened and Hadley staggered out of the bedroom.
“Mornin’, sunshine,” I said.
“Mornin’,” she yawned. “Where have you been?”
“She didn’t have sex with him,” Aunt Lin added. I wasn’t so sure she believed me.
“Oooh, really. Ya’ll just slept?” Hadley didn’t believe it either.
“Yes.” That was true.
“Uh huh,” she snickered. “I need some coffee.”
“I need a shower. Are we still on for today?”
“Yeah, unless you have anything else going on.”
“No, I told Eric I had plans.”
“Okay. I need to have some coffee and get a shower in too, and we can head out.”
“Alright. I’ll get goin’ then.” I headed for the bedroom to get a change of clothes. I had a long day ahead of me.
Golden Gate Park was huge. It was a lot bigger than expected in such a dense city. As we drove up to the park I wasn’t sure what to expect inside. It was surrounded by houses and apartment buildings. When we walked in I was surprised to see how serene it was. There were trees I’d never seen before all around. There were birds chirping all around us.
“I like coming here,” Eric told me. He was holding my hand as we walked barefoot through the grass. “It’s a little piece of quiet, getting away from the city. Are you into flowers at all?”
“I like lookin’ at ‘em and smellin’ ‘em, but I’m not so good at growin’ ‘em,” I told him.
“There’s a few flower gardens here we can check out,” he offered. “The Conservatory of Flowers we can check out has all kinds of stuff.”
“That sounds like fun,” I replied. I was glad he was getting his brain function back after spending the last three hours on the beach with me in a bikini.
“I haven’t checked out all of the gardens yet. There’s a bunch of other stuff around. We can head up the hill over there later and check out Haight Street.”
“Sounds good to me. I’ll let you lead the way.” We were on a trail so I didn’t think we’d get lost, but I was content to follow his lead anyway.
It was true that the park was quiet. There were plenty of other people there. Some were picnicking on the sprawling lawn while others were playing music on acoustic guitars or playing Frisbee with their dog. It was a nice place.
I stopped in my tracks when we came upon a big carousel.
“Oh wow,” I breathed, staring at the ride as it slowly spun in circles.
“You want to ride it?” Eric smiled, giving my hand a light squeeze.
“Sure,” I nodded. “Do you?” I tried to imagine him climbing up onto one of the horses and just couldn’t do it.
“This is your first time. I’ll do whatever you want.” He lifted his arm to wrap it around my shoulder as he led me to the carousel. “Plus, I like the smile on your face right now.”
It was worth the five cents it cost each of us to buy a ticket for the ride. The wait to get on took a little while, but I didn’t mind. Since I was wearing a dress, we opted to sit on one of the sleighs instead of me trying to climb up on one of the horses. It didn’t really matter. The point was, it was fun. My head rested on Eric’s shoulder as the ride started. Even though we were just going round and round in circles, it was a good time.
“You know I’ve never been on a rollercoaster?” I confessed.
“Really?” He seemed surprised by that. “I feel like I need to take you to a few more places while we’re here.”
“I don’t know if rollercoasters are for me. I think I’d probably throw up. I have a hard enough time on the Tilt-A-Whirl at the parish fair.”
“Then we’ll stick to carousels, how’s that?” His big hand rubbed up and down my shoulder.
“Sounds perfect to me.” The ride didn’t last nearly as long as I wanted it to, but maybe we’d catch it again on the way out.
When the ride was over we left the small building that housed the carousel. Kids were playing in the park nearby. I paused to watch them for a moment. I’d thought about being a teacher, but I didn’t know for sure if that was what I was destined for. Eric’s hand was linked with mine.
“Do you want to be a bartender forever?” I asked absently.
“I think I might want to open my own bar one day,” he answered. “I don’t know where at yet. I love it here, but I don’t know if San Francisco is my final destination.”
“I don’t think it is.” I wasn’t sure why I thought so, but there was just something about him that said there was more wanderlust lurking in him.
“Who knows, I might follow you back to Louisiana,” he smiled, dipping his head down to kiss my forehead.
“Heavens, why? There’s nothing all that special about Louisiana.” Yeah, sure, there was culture and all, but I was mostly bored out of my mind there.
“You might get bored with me,” I pointed out. What we had was new, so of course it was all exciting and fun. Of course by the time the shiny new excitement phase was over, I’d already be back home. I hadn’t given too much thought to how I was going to deal with that in the end. Truthfully, I couldn’t let myself. If I did, I’d break things off right then and there.
“I might, but I might not,” he shrugged. “We’re taking it one date a time though, right?”
“Right,” I nodded.
We started walking again. Heading toward the conservatory Eric had mentioned. A crowd formed on a hill just past the park where the kids were playing. Music was playing and a woman was singing. Eric stopped in his tracks and muttered under his breath.
“What?” I looked at him.
He gripped my hand harder, tugging me in the direction of the music. We stopped at the back of the crowd. There was a woman on stage with a raspy voice singing a song I wasn’t sure I’d heard before.
“That’s Janis Joplin,” Eric said without taking his eyes off the stage.
My eyes went wide. I wasn’t too familiar with her music, but I’d heard the name more than once.
“Isn’t she one of your favorite singers?” I whispered back.
“She’s phenomenal,” he said. He wrapped his arm around me, holding me close. I could practically feel his heart beating with excitement.
I wondered what she was doing playing in the middle of a park like she was, but I stayed quiet. What I did do was reach into my purse for my camera. Eric was so enthralled by Janis that he didn’t notice me taking pictures. I got one of her playing and then I turned the camera to take a picture of him too. Eric looked completely star struck. It was understandable. I wouldn’t have expected to find a famous musician playing for free in the middle of a big public space like that. The unmistakable smell of marijuana wafted our way. I tucked my camera away in my purse and hugged Eric.
It was one of those once in a lifetime kind of moments and I wanted to be there in it. I closed my eyes and moved with Eric when he started to sway. I wouldn’t have expected dancing in the park, but it seemed like the right thing to do, given the song she was singing. I had no idea what song it was, but it was definitely a love song. It was fitting.
She played two more songs before calling it quits, but I think that was enough to make Eric’s year. I honestly couldn’t recall ever seeing anyone look as happy as he did in that moment. I knew no matter what happened, I was never going to forget that.
“I can see why you’re such a big fan,” I said as he watched her walk away from the crowd. People were actually respectful of the fact that she was done and didn’t try to harass her into sticking around.
“I’m so glad you were here for that,” he grinned. He leaned down and gave me a hard, deep kiss right there in the middle of all those people.
I moaned into the unexpected kiss. I was glad I was there too. Hadley was probably going to be a little jealous about it, but something told me that wasn’t the first time Janis Joplin had done that, and it probably wouldn’t be the last either. Eric pulled away a minute later so we could both catch our breath.
“I’m glad I was here for it too.” I reached up to tuck some of his hair back behind his ear.
“This is officially the best day ever,” he laughed. “I was worried about bringing you here. I thought maybe it would be too boring.”
I laughed too. “Well, Janis definitely changed that. I’ll have to mail you the pictures I took.”
“Do you still want to go look at the conservatory?”
“If you want to,” he said with that silly grin on his face. “I’m sure there’s a lot of gorgeous flowers in there… not as pretty as you.”
“How about we go check out the flowers and then we go get some Chinese food?” I suggested. “You know I’ve never had Chinese food either?”
“Are you kidding me?” He looked shocked by that.
“We don’t even have a stoplight in my hometown, Eric,” I laughed.
“Oh wow. You definitely need to see Chinatown.”
“It’s on my list of things to so,” I smiled. I reached down for his hand and said, “Come on, let’s go look at flowers.”
He lifted my hand to kiss the back before he tugged me to follow him toward the Conservatory. No matter what happened at the end of the summer, I was collecting a whole bunch of moments I was going to remember fondly. Our day in the park was definitely being added to the list.