I wake up with a splitting headache. The taste in my mouth is a familiar one, but one I shouldn’t be tasting. Not after all the hard work and what I’ve accomplished. I force myself out of bed and go to the bathroom to pee. After that I brush my teeth. Artis appears in the doorway and her brown eyes look up at me with concern.
“Yeah, I fucked up, kid,” I tell her. This headache can only mean one thing.
Wine. Lots of it. Red wine, specifically. Something about the tannins in it. Always gives me a horrible headache.
I shower because even though I know it won’t make me feel any cleaner emotionally, it’ll at least get my body feeling a little better. Once I’m clean and dressed, I towel dry my hair and brush my teeth again. I can’t seem to get that awful hangover taste out of my mouth.
Finally, I leash up the dog. Sunglasses hide my eyes. I grab my phone and shoot Kennedy a text to tell her that I had a bad night. I follow it up with a photo of two empty bottles that once held decent Merlot. Wine wasn’t my drug of choice back when I was drinking, but it’s generally the easiest thing to get my hands on.
My phone rings as I’m walking out of the apartment, holding Artis’ leash.
“Hello,” I say to my sponsor.
“What happened?” Kennedy asks.
“I saw Eric last night after the meeting. I told him how it all got started. We ended up getting in a fight,” I explain.
“I suppose the wine wasn’t his idea?”
“No. He has no idea. I did that on my own after I left him.”
“Is it a one-time thing?”
“Go to a meeting,” she says. “This isn’t the end of the world, Sookie. It happens all the time.”
But to me, it is the end of the world. We get to the elevator and I have to take a few deep breaths to keep from having a breakdown. I’m disappointed in myself. I’m angry. More than two years of progress derailed in a single night. What the fuck was I thinking? I know better than that! That’s what really makes me angry. Drinking doesn’t solve anything. I know it, and yet I did it anyway.
Part of me wants to send pictures to Eric and blame him, but that’s not fair. He didn’t put those bottles in my hands. Even if he had, he didn’t force me to drain them. My choices, my consequences.
“Sookie? Are you there?”
“I’ll find a meeting,” I promise her.
“Good. Call your therapist if you need to. Get an emergency session,” she advises. “If you need to talk more later, call me.”
“I will.” She’s right about me calling my therapist. That’s exactly what I should do. “Thanks, Kennedy.”
“You’re welcome. Drink plenty of water to flush your system.”
I nod while she gives me other advice. Artis seems to know that something isn’t right with me. We walk aimlessly once I’ve hung up. My phone is in my pocket, along with my keys and wallet. I stop at Daily Grind for coffee. Maybe some black special dark roast will clear the fog from my brain. While I wait for the coffee, I place a call to my therapist. She’s got a session available that afternoon and I take it.
I lose track of how far we’ve gone and what direction we’re facing. Then I notice that we’re outside of Eric’s business. I stop and lift my sunglasses. When I look through the window I realize that he’s sitting at the front counter. Artis begins to bark, causing Eric to lift his eyes from the computer he’s looking at. Normally, I’d probably go in. Today I don’t think I’m welcome.
“Artis, come on, let’s go.” Getting my dog to turn around and go back home is easier said than done. She wants to see her friend.
I don’t expect it, but Eric gets up. When he comes outside Bear is with him, looking just as happy as Artis.
“What are you doing here?”
“Taking my dog for a walk.” Duh?
Eric narrows his eyes. He knows I’m hungover.
“Why did you walk your dog here?”
“It’s just where we ended up. And we didn’t even end up here.”
“You’re hung– never mind. Come on, Bear.” He turns to go back inside.
“Yep, I’m a big piece of shit. You’re right. See ya.” Jackass. I turn to lead Artis away but she doesn’t want to go. “Artis, let’s go. As soon as you disappoint him, he’ll just kick you out.” I’m saying it to be hurtful, or so I think, but maybe it really is how I feel about him deep down in the very worst parts of me.
“Is that how you really feel?” Eric asks from behind me.
“What difference does it make to you, Eric?” I have no doubt he thinks talking to me again has been a mistake. I know how his brain works.
“It makes a difference because if that’s what you think you clearly don’t know me either.”
“Maybe I don’t. We’re both liars.”
“Yeah, I guess so. I don’t know what to say here, Sookie. I know if I tell you what I’m thinking you’re going to tell me I’m being selfish and not everything is about me, and if I don’t I’m a liar. I cannot fucking win here.”
“I may not like what you say if you’re being honest, but I’ll always take honesty.” I turn around to face him. “So hit me with it. I can take it.”
“Yes, before when you left I was disappointed in you. You drinking last night after you left, you’re the one that did it, but it’s also my fault for pushing you to the edge when I know you’re vulnerable. I’m disappointed in me, Sookie. I should have been… better.”
“Stop. Right now. Just stop. My choices are not on you, Eric. If I’m a self-fulfilling prophecy, that’s on me. This is exactly what I meant when I said I can’t manage your feelings and mine.”
“You shouldn’t have to manage my feelings.” He steps forward, making Artis jump up on her hind legs, trying to get him to pick her up.
“It’s a good reason why this should be our last meeting, Eric.”
“Yeah, you’re probably right,” he sighs.
“Come on, Artis, let’s go.” She doesn’t like it when I tug her leash. She wants to stay with Eric. On some level, I totally get it. There is something extremely comforting about him. When he lets you, he’s an easy person to sink into.
I hear Bear bark behind me, probably wondering why I’ve paid no attention to him. If I do, I won’t walk away and that’s what I need to do right now. Being around Eric is just not good for me. He’s got his issues and I have mine. I can’t fix him and I don’t want him to think it’s his job to fix me, and I can tell that he still feels that urge. It’s not up to him. Until he understands that, there’s always going to be this weird tension between us that will make even friendship really difficult.
While I’m mad at myself for falling off the wagon, I’m proud of myself too. I protected my boundaries. I could let him back in and fall into old habits, but I haven’t done that. I slipped, but I’m staying the path. There is no shame in that.
This is one of the hardest decisions I ever had to make. It’s what’s best for my boy, though. I tried treatment after treatment but he’s just too old. Anything else I do is going to diminish his quality of life, so I make the decision to let Bear go out on a high. I’m going to give him his best day. Steak for breakfast, a walk on the beach, and something I actually feel like I’m ready for. I find Sookie on Facebook again and send her a message. No, a formal invitation.
Me: I know it’s been a long time. I hope I’m finding you well. Bear’s best day ever is going to be on Saturday, and I know he’d want you there.
That message is harder to write than anything I’ve ever said to her in the past. It’s been more than two years since the last time I saw her, hungover and sad, outside of my business. I’ve had times when I’ve thought about reaching out to her to see how she’s doing. I still care. I haven’t because it’s probably not what she needs and because I know it’s not very good for me either. This is different. This is about Bear.
A few minutes pass before I get a response from Sookie.
Sookie: Tell me where and when, and I’ll be there. Bawling my eyes out, but I’ll be there.
Me: My place Saturday. We’re starting our day at 8am.
Sookie: Same place?
Sookie: Okay. I’ll be there. Thank you for inviting me.
Me: You’re welcome.
I put my phone away. Bear is napping on the couch with his head on my lap.
“Mama Sookie is going to come see you,” I tell him. He knows her name. He hasn’t heard it in a long time but he shifts his head when I say it. Already I feel better about inviting her. Over the last two years I’ve done a lot of internal work on myself. I hope she’s done the same. She’s a great woman and I really want her to be happy and healthy.
I’ll always care about her but I’ve finally learned how to be happy on my own. I don’t need Sookie or anyone else. Well, I need my boys but dogs don’t count. They’re a gift to the world. Saturday is going to be a really hard day. I know I can get through it, and that Bear is going to be in a better place with no pain. It’s the only thing that’s going to get me through.
I’m pulling a broiled steak out of the oven when the doorbell rings. Being the old man he is, Bear barks as he reluctantly walks away from the delicious smelling steak to see who’s at the door. Imagine how happy he’s going to be when he learns it’s his mama.
I set the steak on top of the stove before my boys and I make it to the front door. There she is. She looks as good as ever. My heart racing at the sight of her lets me know she’s still pretty fucking special.
“Hi,” I say. Bear is hitting me with his tail, he’s so excited.
“Hi,” she replies. Her hair has grown out and she’s put some rose gold highlights in it. She’s also pierced her right nostril and there’s a compass tattoo on the lower part of her inner left arm. Her smile is bright and it’s obvious she’s sober. Sookie’s eyes are clear and focused. She’s also really tan. “How’ve you been?” The hug she offers surprises me.
“Better,” I answer as I hug her back. She feels good in my arms. “The last few months have been tough.” I motion to Bear.
“What’s wrong, Bear?” Sookie lets me go so she can kneel down in front of the old man who was once a tiny puppy that slept soundly in the pocket of her pullover sweater.
“Cancer,” I tell her. It’s hard for my eyes to stay dry talking about it.
“Oh my poor Boo Bear,” she says sadly and pets the top of his head. Sookie leans in to kiss his fuzzy face.
“We did treatments,” I state. “I felt like his quality of life was more important, especially with his age.”
“Yeah,” she agrees before giving him another soft kiss and some more pets on the side of his neck. Sookie looks up at me and says, “I’m very sorry, Eric.”
“Thanks. I’m just glad you could come spend some time with him today. I know he’s more excited about you than his steak cooling in there.”
“I doubt that,” she says with a quiet laugh. “And he is every bit worth the almost six hour flight to get here.” Sookie stands up and motions for Bear to follow her to the kitchen. “You want steak, Bear?”
His tapping toes are all the answer he needs to give.
“I have coffee, tea, or orange juice,” I offer as she follows me into the kitchen.
“I’ll have whatever you’re having.”
“Still take your coffee the same?” I ask. When we get to the kitchen I pull down a mug for her.
“Actually, I take it black now. I rarely drink coffee anymore, if you can believe it.”
“Whoa,” I chuckle. “What are you drinking these days?”
“Most days for breakfast I have a smoothie with pineapple, mango, coconut, orange juice, some Greek yogurt, and a little vanilla protein powder,” she says. “I sleep a lot better, so I don’t need the extra jolt from coffee.”
“Ah, I drink coffee because I like it, not for the caffeine. I can make you a smoothie,” I offer.
“No, coffee is fine. It was a long flight. I didn’t sleep much on the plane.”
“Where are you living now?” I pour her cup of coffee before I take it to the island for her.
“Thanks.” She takes a sip of the coffee and says, “Well, I decided if I was going to live at the beach I was going to do it right. A year ago I bought a condo on the island of Maui.”
“Really?” I smile. “Good for you. That sounds like a dream. How does Artis like it?”
“Oh she loves it,” Sookie says with a big old smile. “The change of scenery has been so good for me. I learned how to surf. I’m actually coordinated. Who knew?”
“Believe me, I knew,” I chuckle. Her coordination in the bedroom was amazing, not that I need to be thinking about it. “Good, though. Hawaii looks good on you.”
“Thanks. If you still haven’t been, you should go. I think you’d really like it.”
“I may finally take a vacation and do it,” I say. I get a knife down so I can cut up Bear’s steak. “Are you hungry at all?”
“I could eat.”
“Steak or a waffle breakfast sammie?” I have more steaks.
“A waffle breakfast sammie sounds great, if you’re okay with that.”
“Yep. I already have the waffle batter made,” I smile. As I start to move around the kitchen I ask, “What are you doing these days? Same kind of work?”
“Yep. Still working from home with my design business. That’s part of what allowed me to move to Hawaii so effortlessly. I work remotely and have meetings with clients online. It’s pretty great.”
“I love my clients too much to have meetings online,” I laugh. I pull the waffle maker out so I can heat it up. “Also, after breakfast the boys and I plan on taking an off leash walk on the beach. I know it’s not Maui, but it’s going to make my boy happy.”
“Okay. No ride down the coast?”
“We can do that. The vet is coming tonight around seven,” I say. “We have plenty of time.”
She nods and says, “And somehow not enough.” After a heavy sigh she adds, “I’d like to get him a meat lover’s pizza later if you don’t mind. Maybe some strawberry ice cream. He used to love that so much.”
“I think he’d love it still,” I smile. “I’m sorry I didn’t reach out when he first got sick so you could have more time with him.”
“Eric, it’s okay. I still love him and he will forever have a special place in my heart, but he isn’t my dog anymore. He hasn’t been for a very long time. The fact that you even reached out at all says a lot about who you are.” She reaches down to give Bear some pets and scratches. “I couldn’t come up here every weekend to see him. It would have just made me sad to know he’s sick and dying and I can’t do anything about it. It’s better this way.”
“A little best day for both of you,” I say. “It’s been hard dealing with this. Björn has been working double time.”
I go silent while I make breakfast. It gives Sookie some good time with Bear. I hear her talking to him like she always did and it’s refreshing. I can hear his tail thump on the floor every now and then, making me smile to myself. He hasn’t loved anyone the way he loves her. Not even me. If she was in a better spot all those years ago I’m sure he would have happily gone with her.
I don’t want to think about that. I’ve done a lot of work on myself and had time to forgive her as well as forgive myself. I know she went through a hard time as a child, but it was still her choice to handle those issues the way she did instead of getting help earlier. I had to learn there was no way anything I said or did could help her heal. I still love her, I always will. I just get to sit back and quietly be crazy happy for her progress.
“Okay, breakfast sammies all around,” I say, sliding Sookie’s sandwich onto the island across from her.
“Thanks. Got hot sauce?” That’s… unexpected. “I like hot sauce now.”
I go to the fridge to get the hot sauce and take it to her.
“Perfect. Thank you.” She removes the cap and shakes some of the hot sauce onto her egg.
“I never imagined this day would be here,” I wink as she hands me the hot sauce back.
She laughs and then picks up her sammie to take a bite. “Mmm… delish.”
“Recipe hasn’t changed in twenty years,” I smile. I take Björn up to my room so I can feed Bear his steak without interference. I come back and pick up Bear’s steak. I place it on the floor next to Sookie before I sit down on the other side of her.
“Looks like Bear’s still a steak lover. You remember the first time we gave him steak?”
I laugh and say, “How can I forget? He ended up on top of my head at the end of that round of zoomies.”
“That look on his face like he just found the holy grail of yummies,” she says with amusement.
“It’s probably the second happiest I ever saw him,” I chuckle. “The first happiest is when he met you. Third is when he went for his first coast cruise.”
“His first ice cream cone all to himself was pretty funny too. I didn’t know dogs could get a brain freeze until then.”
“I wish we had a picture of that,” I laugh. “The way he gave it a stern talking to after his brain freeze was pretty comical too.”
“Yes!” Sookie cackles. She has to set her breakfast sandwich down while she laughs at her memories. “And we caught a piece of that too, if memory serves. How dare we not warn him more sternly, right?”
“Must’ve been horrible puppy parents,” I chuckle. When Sookie isn’t drunk she’s an amazing dog parent.
“Must have been.”
“I think we redeemed ourselves in our own right,” I say. I finally take a bite of my sandwich. Mmm… I haven’t made one in a while. Just as good.
“I’d say he still managed to turn out to be the goodest boy,” she says. There’s sadness in her smile, but she doesn’t cry. Not yet, anyway. I’m sure she will before the day is done.
“Yes he did. There will never be another Bear,” I say. He finishes his steak and pops his head between Sookie and me, silently asking if we have enough sammie for him. “Once a beggar, always a beggar.”
“That’s my boy.” Sookie pulls a strip of bacon from her sandwich. She inspects it for hot sauce before handing it down to Bear.
It’s nice to see Sookie again. The circumstances suck but I’m glad she could make it. I don’t think this day would be the same without her.