I get back to my life as usual. Artis settles in with me over the course of a week or two. We fall into a regular routine of walks and playtime so that she’s getting plenty of exercise. The crate turned out to be a good call in the beginning. She didn’t know what to do with all the space she suddenly had to roam. Three days after coming home with me she finally decided to sleep on my bed and I let her. That wasn’t something I ever allowed with Bear, but then he never lived in a kennel. It makes me feel good to know that Artis feels safe with me.
Getting used to her collar jingling at night has been interesting. I’m grateful for Cesar Milan clips on YouTube because they’ve helped me to curb her nuisance barking. She doesn’t do it a lot, but I would prefer to nip it in the bud if I can. Having her at home means I have to take regular breaks. It’s a win/win for both of us.
I keep going to meetings and therapy. I’m making more and more progress with each passing day. I don’t put crazy expectations on myself anymore. I’ve learned that trying to live by the standards of others is a good way to set myself up for failure. My therapist calls it managing my expectations. I’m excelling at it, apparently. Small goals are okay to have. No one becomes a millionaire overnight, right? Not that being a millionaire is the goal.
If I can grow my business enough to sufficiently support myself and maybe buy a house closer to the coast, I’ll be happy.
I let Eric slip to the back of my mind and fall off my radar. While I really did appreciate him inviting me to come by the daycare, I’m not convinced it’s a good idea. He’s got a girlfriend and I don’t want to fuck that up. I’ve already done enough damage where he’s concerned. So when I get a message from him via Facebook, it throws me off. It probably shouldn’t come as a surprise, but it does. It’s been nearly a month since I saw him at the pet store.
Eric: Hey, just checking in to see how you’re doing with Miss Artis.
I open my camera and take a picture of her, curled up at my feet fast asleep, and send that to him.
Me: She’s sleeping like a furry baby.
Eric: She looks sweet. How are you doing?
Me: I’m just fine. About to get started on dinner. Well breakfast, but dinner. You know how I roll.
Eric: Yes I do 🙃. I’m having sweet cream waffles later.
Me: Not bad, not bad. I’m having cheesy scrambled eggs with bacon AND a sausage patty on an everything bagel, with hashbrowns on the side because YUMMMMM.
Obviously carb cutting is not something I actively worry about. Life’s too short not to enjoy all the carbs. I’m certainly not trying to live forever.
Me: So yeah, I still eat like I’m eating for two. That hasn’t changed.
Eric: Good to know. I still cook for 12.
Me: HAHAHAHA and we used to kill it all back in the day. God, we’re so fat.
Eric: You’re not wrong 🤣. I space out my eating a little more now and throw in more cardio.
Me: Artis is making me walk more, so that’s good.
Me: Oh damn. I just had a thought. Breakfast sandwich on a waffle. *Homer Simpson drool*
Eric: You should come over and we can make those happen lol
Me: Mmm… I don’t want to leave Artis alone for that long.
Plus you have a girlfriend…
Eric: Bring her along. You know how much Bear loves new friends.
Me: Yeah, but I don’t know how she’s going to react. If they don’t get along, I can’t stay. Besides, we probably shouldn’t hang out.
Eric: You’re probably right…
Me: You’ve already got a girlfriend. I don’t need to mess that up. I don’t want to mess YOU up. I’ve done enough of that.
Eric: We uh… we broke up.
Me: That sucks. I’m sorry to hear that.
I’m not going to assume that it’s because of me. I don’t know enough about their relationship to know why they broke up. It’s entirely possible they’ve had problems long before I crashed Eric’s life.
Eric: Thanks. It was the right thing to do.
Me: It wasn’t because of me, was it?
I probably shouldn’t ask. Asking questions I don’t really want an answer to is never smart.
Eric: It was because of my unresolved issues. You’re not to blame. I promise.
That’s a relief. Although I won’t be the least bit surprised if some of those unresolved issues have to do with me.
Me: Well, right or not, I’m still sorry. Breakups suck, even when they’re for the right reasons.
Eric: Thank you. She’s a great woman and I’m sure she’s going to find the right guy one day. She deserves nothing but the best.
It could just be me, but I always think there’s a little bit of bullshit and condescension when people say things like that. Yes, of course, it’s absolutely possible for a person to be wonderful and be hooked up with the wrong counterpart. That happens all the time. Realistically, however, no one really lets go of a great partner voluntarily. It’s possible to work out your bullshit and maintain a relationship at the same time. I guess ultimately it doesn’t really matter what the reasons are why a relationship fails. If it’s the wrong fit, it’s the wrong fit. I haven’t dated anyone since Eric, so what the hell do I know?
Me: I suck at relationships. Forever alone is pretty much my future lol
Eric: womp womp… you gave them a good try 🙃😉
Eric: At this point I think I’m the same boat.
Me: It makes me nervous about what kind of mom I’ll make. 😬😬😬😬😬😬😬😬
He’s probably sitting on his couch, horrified at the thought of me having kids. I’m sure most people feel that way.
Eric: I already know you’re going to be a great mom as long as you stay on the right path.
Me: Okay, NOW you’re fucking with me.
Eric: Nah. I don’t fuck with people about parenting. You know that.
Me: There’s a first for everything.
I get up off the couch and walk across the apartment to the kitchen. My apartment is completely open, minus the bathroom. Even my bedroom is open. It’s sectioned off behind the kitchen, but it’s not a private space. I turn on the oven to cook my bacon. Then I start pulling things out of the fridge. I take a photo of all the ingredients I have on the counter and send it to Eric.
Me: All of this is going to get in my belly. I am so happy.
Eric: #jealous 🤤
I’m probably going to regret this but I do it anyway.
Me: If you’re willing to forgo the waffles, you could come here for a breakfast sandwich…
Close to a minute passes before I get a reply.
Eric: Yeah, that sounds good.
Shit. I realize I didn’t actually expect him to say yes. Shit. Shit. Shit.
I send him my address because I can’t back out. That would be a total dick move.
Me: Come on over whenever you’re ready. The bacon’s about to go in the oven.
Eric: Need me to bring anything?
Me: Bring your drink of choice. Booze is just fine. I’ll be okay if you drink.
I don’t expect other people to stay sober because I choose to. I’m not about policing other people’s intake of alcohol, unless I know they’re also trying to stay sober. Then it’s different.
Eric: Okay. I’ll see you in a bit.
My apartment isn’t a mess, but I am. It’s been two days since I showered last and my hair is a tangled mop on top of my head. I sprint to the bathroom to get cleaned up. I don’t have to look like Miss America when Eric shows up but I don’t want to look homeless either. I’ll kick myself for this ridiculousness later.
I show up at Sookie’s house about thirty minutes after the last message I sent. When she answers the door it’s pretty evident she just got out of the shower by her wet hair and the lovely scent coming from her.
“I brought orange juice.” I lift the bag I brought with me.
“Thank you,” she says with a smile. Artis comes charging at me, tail wagging and what looks like a smile on her face. “She sucks at playing hard to get.”
“I see,” I laugh. Sookie takes the orange juice from me so I can bend down and say hello to Artis. “Hi, pretty girl.” I give her good pets and scratches on her side that give her crazy leg. I pick her up after a moment and walk into Sookie’s apartment with her in my arms. “It smells amazing in here.”
“Thanks. I didn’t get the bacon in the oven until about five minutes ago,” she says.
“That’s okay. Do you need help with anything?” I offer. Jake is going to kick my ass when I tell him I had dinner with Sookie.
“Not at the moment. Do scrambled eggs still make you angry?”
“Yes,” I nod. I hate scrambled eggs. They’re just… gross. I’m a fried or poached egg guy all the way. “I don’t mind cooking eggs.” I follow her to the kitchen. I put Artis back on the floor and go to the sink to wash my hands.
“You can cook your eggs your way and I’ll cook mine my way. My feelings don’t get hurt over scrambled eggs.”
“So how have things been going for you?” I have to make Artis sit when she tries to jump up on my leg.
“Good. Work’s been steady. Artis needed some time to adjust, but she’s been better. That crate was a lifesaver for the first week she was here,” Sookie tells me.
“She looks like she’s settling in just fine. She’s also gained a pound or two,” I chuckle. “Bear still throws a fit if I have to lock him away for any length of time. He tried chewing his way out of the spare room when I was getting work done in the entryway and I had to put him away for a while.”
“Sounds like Bear, the social butterfly. Still nosy as heck, huh?”
“Oh yeah. He almost got his paw pinched off when he found a crab at the beach he tried to make friends with.”
“Uh oh. Crab don’t want nothing to do with his silly butt,” she laughs.
“Oh, he was so sad,” I laugh too. “Björn looked at him like he’s insane.”
“At least Björn has some sense,” she snorts. “I decided to go with hashbrown patties instead since I have this nifty air fryer. Are you interested in one or three?”
“Sure,” I smile. I don’t want to get in Sookie’s way so I lean against the end of the counter. “This place is nice, Sookie.” She’s in a cute studio apartment that’s a good size for her and Artis.
“Thanks. It’s big enough for Artis and me. Someday it might make a great income property. This isn’t my end game as far as housing goes, but for now it’s just fine.”
“Are you renting or did you buy?” We picked out the house I currently live in together. At the time Sookie was still building her credit and it would have done more harm than good if she applied for a mortgage with me. I don’t know how much better her credit is, and it really isn’t my business.
“I bought it. The interest rate sucks but it is what it is. I decided I didn’t want to deal with a landlord and having to stick with what someone else wants design wise.”
“I don’t blame you. I’ve thought about moving a few times, but I love that house. Plus, I’m sure you can refinance in a couple years,” I shrug.
“I don’t even know what refinancing is. You know math is not my thing.”
I laugh at that. “At least some things never change. You can refinance to get a better interest rate once you’ve built up some credit.”
“Mmhmm,” I hum. “I recommend it if your current rate is through the roof.”
“I’ll look into it. I’ve only been here for about eight months so I don’t know if I would even qualify for that right now.”
“Not that you’re asking for my opinion,” I say. “I’ll stop giving it…” Sookie opens the cabinet to her left to take plates down. “I got it.” Without thinking I step forward and reach in behind her to get the plates, pressing my chest against her back. Shit. “Shit… sorry…” I quickly take a step back. I trip over the dog who decides she needs to be a part of this and I end up on my ass with Artis climbing into my lap.
“Well, that’s a clever way to get you to sit down and relax,” Sookie says.
That makes me laugh. With how serious things got in the end I forgot how funny she can be.
“Oh, she absolutely did this on purpose.” Her butt on my lap as she watches her mom is proof enough.
“You know, I almost think we should trade dogs.”
“As easy as that sounds, I’m not giving Bear up,” I say. “You’re more than welcome to come visit him anytime you want. Maybe we can even introduce him and Artis, but he’ll always be my best boy.”
“Eric, I don’t really think you’re going to trade dogs with me.”
“Oh good,” I chuckle. I give Artis some chest scratches. “I’m honestly not sure how well Bear would do without Björn anyway. They’re practically attached at the hip.”
“I think we both know that I have a horrible track record, where most things I touch go to shit in record time. I’m sure Bear would be no different.”
“I don’t think things go to shit in record time around you.” Of the five years we stayed together there were a lot of good times.
She shrugs and says, “I see it differently.”
“That’s okay. It’s not my job to change your mind.”
Sookie pulls the bacon from the oven and places the strips on paper towel lined plates to let it drain and cool. The hashbrown patties go in the air fryer.
“Do you want bacon and sausage or just bacon?” Sookie asks me while she’s getting sausage patties from a bag in the freezer.
“I’ll take both if you’re making both. Are you sure you don’t need me to do anything? I feel like if I do get up I’ll have to put Artis in a baby sling on my back.”
She snickers and says, “I’m sure. You can make your eggs when it’s time, I promise.”
“I appreciate it.”
While Sookie cooks I move to the living area to play with the dog. She’s a sweet girl. Sookie did good picking her out. I’m sure she’s happy to have a forever home, too.
I look into the kitchen to watch her move around. Jake was right when he said she’s awesome when she’s sober. She is pretty great. I’m single again, but that doesn’t mean I’m going to try anything with her.
I sat Sylvie down three weeks ago and told her what’s going on with me. I told her how Sookie showing up brought back all these memories that I was having trouble tamping down. It wasn’t fair for me to keep Sylvie around when I was dealing with Sookie related issues. There were tears and I still have a heavy heart over it. That doesn’t mean it’s not the right thing to do. I’ve had to make a lot of hard decisions in my life over women and that was one of them.
“Okay, egg time,” Sookie says as she’s beating her eggs up. Those poor, poor eggs.
I get up from the floor where I’m playing with Artis so I can wash my hands. Sookie knows I’d rather get a fresh pan than cook my eggs in the same pan she cooked scrambled eggs in. The idea makes me want to puke. She’s sweet and has a second pan for me.
As Sookie is whisking the nasty scrambled eggs I reach around her, brushing her hip to get an egg for myself. I make sure the pan is hot and buttered before I crack my egg in it.
“I’ve got slices of mild cheddar and pepper jack, so you’re welcome to whatever you want on your sandwich,” she tells me.
“Thanks. What do you want? I can grab it for you,” I offer.
“I think I’ll do one of each. It’s in the deli drawer toward the middle.”
“You got it.” It’s on the tip of my tongue to call her Honeybee, the nickname I called her until the day she moved out.
I get the cheese out of the fridge and set it next to her on the counter.
“Do you want me to toast the bread?”
“I’ll put the bagels in as soon as the potatoes come out in a minute,” she says.
I nod as I focus on my egg. It’s kinda strange, kinda cool hanging out with Sookie, even if it is just one night. I miss her. She’s not the same Sookie I fell in love with, but I think I like this Sookie better.