I woke up with a jolt when I heard a tiny voice calling Mama. Sookie was snuggled into my chest with the covers up around her ears. If she heard the munchkin, she was ignoring it. I laid there for a moment contemplating waking Sookie. I decided to do something dad-like and reached back to turn off the baby monitor. I extracted myself from my wife’s grasp and found my pants so I didn’t horrify the toddler.
When I stepped over the gate into Willa’s room she was sitting up in her little bed.
“Good morning,” I whispered.
“No, Mama,” Willa said.
“Mama’s sleeping still,” I told her. “Can I get you something?”
“Mama.” I should have seen that coming.
Well, shit. Sookie had on a nightie, she must have put on after I passed out. I walked over to the bed.
“Come on, I’ll take you.” I reached out my hands to see if she’d let me pick her up. Thankfully her slender arms went up in the air.
She was so light when I pulled her up against my chest.
“Are you sure I can’t do something for you so Mama can sleep?” I asked once I had her in my arms.
She nodded her head.
“Really? Nothing? We can go downstairs and make Mama breakfast so we can surprise her with it,” I suggested. I suspected it was going to be a no-go, but I had to try.
“No, I want Mama,” she said and tried to get down.
“Alright, we’ll go to Mama.” I didn’t know if Sookie was going to be pissed or not.
I walked out of the room, stepping over the babygate like it was a pebble. When we got back to the room Sookie was still curled up on her side. It wasn’t that surprising Willa wanted Sookie. She had been away from her for too long after losing her dad. When we got to the bed I took a seat and let Willa go. I hoped she would just crawl in to sleep next to Sookie instead of waking her up.
“Mama sleeping,” Willa whispered. She crawled over to her mom and scooted under the blanket. Her head rested on Sookie’s chest and played with her hair.
I lay down on the other side of Willa. I reached over legs to rest my hand on Sookie’s hip. She seemed to be able to tell Willa was there even in her sleep. It was probably a parent thing. I was sure I would get there one day. Since the sun was still down and my body rejected being awake I was asleep again in no time.
When I woke up again Sookie was still in the bed, as was Willa. Willa seemed to be wide awake while Sookie was just stretching. Who knew what the kid did while we were asleep.
“Morning,” I said in a groggy voice.
“Morning,” Sookie said.
Willa crawled over to me and just stared right into my eyes.
“Hi,” I smiled at her. I was sure she was trying to figure out how I fit into their lives.
Sookie reached out and tickled one of Willa’s little feet. She stopped before Willa could look back at her, and then started again when Willa looked at me.
After a moment I waited until Willa would look back at Sookie and I would tickle her side.
“Mama!” Willa squealed and started to squirm and laugh. She gave up trying to catch us and instead curled into a ball.
“I didn’t want to wake you when she called for you,” I told Sookie. Willa’s feet were still poking out so I ran my fingernail along her tiny arch.
Willa howled with laughter and kicked out her little feet. She rolled toward Sookie, looking for protection.
“It’s fine. A lot of the time she just wants a snuggle,” Sookie told me. Too bad for Willa, her mom moved to blow a raspberry on her neck.
“I was surprised she allowed me to pick her up,” I chuckled.
“Mama, nooooo,” Willa giggled. She tried to push Sookie away but she just moved to Willa’s stomach.
The two of them continued to play until Sookie got up to change Willa’s diaper and get breakfast started.
While Sookie was changing her I took a moment to take a piss and brush my teeth. It was strange doing things in a new bathroom. I had lived in my house for over a decade. Buying a new house with Sookie was going to be a real shock to the system, but it would be a good change for both of us.
Molly and George were already outside by the time I got down there. Willa was toddling around while Sookie pulled things from the fridge.
“What’s for breakfast?” I asked. I was the cook in my previous marriage since I worked from home.
“Miss Willa wants yogurt and bananas with Cheerios,” Sookie told me. “I have a taste for hard boiled eggs and toast. Mom baked some of her country white the other day.”
“That works for me. Want me to do anything?”
“You can make the coffee if you want some. I think I’ll just have juice today,” she replied.
I nodded and went to the coffee maker to get the canister so I could fill it with water. I was a definite coffee drinker. As I was filling it there was a knock on the front door. I was standing there in a pair of sweats and nothing else. I didn’t know if Sookie was expecting anyone so I looked over at her. She looked busy but it wasn’t my house to answer the door.
“Anybody home?” A man called out.
“Papa!” Willa was off like a shot.
“Uh… who’s Papa?” I whispered to Sookie. I had a sinking suspicion I was about to meet Jackson or her dad. It freaked me the fuck out.
“Her grandpas, but that’s my dad,” Sookie said.
“Shit, should I put a shirt on?”
“I’m sure he’s seen nipples,” she smirked.
“Hush,” I chuckled. Sookie left me in the kitchen while she went to open the front door. I continued to keep myself busy by making coffee. A few seconds last I heard heavy feet hit the floor behind me.
Shit, shit, shit… why am I so fuckin’ nervous?
I sucked it up and grabbed a towel to dry my hands. I turned around to see a guy that was obviously Sookie’s father. She had his eyes and smile. His smile quickly faded though. Fuck.
“Hello, I’m Eric,” I greeted him, reaching my hand out to him.
“Corbett.” He shook my hand.
“Nice to meet you. Are you a coffee drinker?” Since I was making it I might as well ask, right?
“If I’m breathing, I’m drinking coffee.”
“My kinda man,” I chuckled. “I’m making a fresh pot.” I didn’t know if he knew who I was. I didn’t offer. That was up to Sookie.
“Papa, yogurt,” Willa said, holding up a plastic tube thing.
“Oh yum,” he said.
“Dad, this is Eric. Eric, this is my dad,” Sookie said. I noticed she still didn’t tell him who I was to her. He hadn’t threatened my life either so that was a start.
“So it is. You a cheater?” Corbett asked me, point blank.
“No, sir,” I answered. “I’ve been on the other end of that and I don’t wish that feeling on anyone, especially someone as sweet as Sookie.”
“That’s good,” Corbett said. “I’m sorry about your…” He trailed off because it was awkward to give condolences like that.
“Thanks. It’s a little bittersweet. I had so much anger toward her after I found out, but that anger led me to your daughter. What we have going is a little unconventional, but I can’t ever remember something feeling so right,” I told him. It was the truth. I wasn’t in love with Sookie, but I had a deep respect and appreciation for her.
“So you’d still have married her even if you weren’t high as kites?” he questioned.
“Not so soon,” I answered. “I didn’t know I wanted it until I was faced with it. When we were talking about an annulment something told me it wasn’t the right thing to do. She’s…” I trailed off, looking over at my wife. “I’m starting to feel like everything I’ve done in my life, including marrying Maria, has led me to Sookie. She’s giving me things I never thought I would have.”
Corbett nodded but whatever he was thinking, he kept to himself.
“Dad, are you hungry?” Sookie asked.
“No, honey, I’m fine.” Corbett let his granddaughter pull him to the table.
I had to ask Sookie where to get the coffee cups from and I pulled two down. I made myself at home, looking for the cream and sugar. I assumed Sookie talked to her parents about moving, but I didn’t want to bring that up. Instead I brought up painting to Willa.
“Hey, Willa, do you still want to paint the room at the other house yellow today?” She seemed to be excited about, but Sookie mentioned she had a goldfish brain. I was also at a loss of things to say to Sookie’s family.
“Lellow!” Willa responded with a mouth full of yogurt. George trotted into the kitchen and parked himself under the table by Willa, probably to play vacuum cleaner.
“Do you want to get a new car seat too?” Since Sookie suggested we pick one out together I figured it was a good thing to do. There was a Target store near the Lowe’s.
“No seat.” Willa gave me a defiant look. She looked just like her mother.
“Okay, no riding in the truck then.” I wasn’t ready to argue with little miss sassy pants. I doubt she cared about riding in my truck anyway.
“No, sweetie, my truck,” I answered. I was prepared for her to ask questions about Alcide. It wasn’t my place to answer those questions. I had nothing good to say about the shithead.
Everything went quiet. Sookie cooked, Corbett drank his coffee and Willa ate her breakfast. It was a little awkward. I took a sip of my coffee before setting it down. I felt like I was imposing on family time and that they didn’t really want me around. Maybe want was the wrong word for it. I definitely didn’t belong though.
“Sookie, do you mind if I go take a quick shower?” I asked. The room started to feel a little smaller and I needed to take a breath, which I couldn’t seem to do.
“Of course not,” she answered with a smile.
“Thanks.” I moved to rub her hip and give her a quick kiss.
I nodded at Corbett before I went up the stair with Molly right behind me. I was comfortable with Sookie. I didn’t know if it was because Corbett was over, because I was in Alcide’s house, or… I didn’t know what it was. I didn’t regret staying married to her for a second, but my anxiety started to rise.
I went to turn the water. While it was warming up I grabbed my phone. It was time to let the cat out of the bag. I was already meeting the parents, it was best I told the people I cared about most. I pulled up my Facebook app. I quickly figured out how to search for people. I found Bobby, Clancy, and a handful of other people and friend requested them. That would take care of telling them I was married, right? I had taken down the picture of my face in Sookie’s cleavage and had an actual picture I took of us before we left Tahoe as my profile picture. It was officially not just a drunken mistake. It was my new life, and I was going to need to get used to it.
“So what brought you by here, Dad?” I asked while I was cleaning up the breakfast mess. Willa was in the living room watching Sesame Street with the dogs. Water was running upstairs so I was sure Eric was in the shower.
“I wanted to see if my new son-in-law was here and see what the hell you were thinking getting married again so soon,” he chuckled.
“You know, I have no idea what I was thinking but I can tell you that I tried doing everything the right way and it failed. Being a widow at my age wasn’t the plan and even if I had found out about the affair before he died I would have tried to save my marriage because I did love him. You and Mom taught me to take it seriously and I do. I know what Eric said sounds cheesy and like he’s just saying what you want to hear but it’s also the truth,” I told him.
“Do you love him?”
“Truthfully? No,” I answered and I could tell that bothered him. “I know what you’re thinking. I thought it too, believe me. The thing is, I know there’s potential for it. We could get an annulment but my gut tells me we’ll end up here anyway.”
Dad shook his head. “This is insane, you know that right? What do you know about him, anyway? And how do you think this is going to affect Willa?”
“I know it’s crazy. Eric’s trying with her. She’s being Willa with him. I look at it like she doesn’t have a daddy anymore. You and Jackson have done your best to step up to fill those shoes, but it wouldn’t be terrible for her to have someone around full-time. She’s young enough that Eric will most likely be the only dad she truly remembers,” I said.
“Do you honestly think he’s going to stick around? Does he have any kids of his own?” I knew Dad was concerned. He trusted my judgement, but he was being a parent.
“Maria couldn’t have kids, so no. But he wants them and he’s trying with Willa. She sat next to him on the couch all by herself last night.”
“That’s a good sign,” he sighed. “I don’t know what to think of him just yet. Your mom wants you guys to come to dinner next Sunday.”
“I’m sure we can do that.”
“You’re going to have to call Jackson to tell him,” he reminded me.
“I know. I’m going to have a talk with him. I was hoping to wait until he can see that Willa’s okay with Eric,” I explained.
“Yeah, that’ll help. I’m sure he’s going to come to talk to me about it too. As long as Eric doesn’t do something stupid like cheat on you I’m sure I’ll be okay with him.”
“I know it’s a shock and I don’t expect anyone to be bouncing off the walls happy about this, but I hope you can accept it,” I said. “Just give him a chance, Dad. He’s a good guy, a very successful writer and he wants to have a family with me. Those are all good things you’d look for, right?”
“Yeah, they are. He doesn’t seem like a violent man either. He’s a big fucker, but I could take him out if I needed to,” Dad said seriously.
I smiled and said, “You said the same thing about Al after he proposed.”
“Yeah, well if Al wasn’t dead I’d take his giant ass out too,” he grumbled.
I patted his hand.
“I don’t think you’ll have to take anyone out, Dad,” I said.
“Good, I don’t want to. I just want you girls to be happy. So far you seem to be a lot better than you were doing a couple weeks ago.”
“I think this gives me something to focus on again. You know I’m not good at being in a free fall. I do better with routines and I feel like Eric will be a good influence on Willa. He’s seen me at some pretty dark points, Dad, and he tried to help instead of running away. That’s a good man.”
“You can stop trying to sell me on him now. Until he does something to change my mind, I’m choosing to like him,” Dad said. I heard the water turn off upstairs.
“That will make my life easier. We are going to start house hunting though. We both need a fresh start,” I told him.
“That’ll be good for you. Being haunted by the ghosts of your very recent past can’t be good on a new marriage.”
“I think it makes things weird,” I agreed. “I told Eric we need to stay close, though. I plan on following through with the offer to let Jackson take Willa on Friday night.”
“That’ll make him feel good. It’ll be good to have a little adult time with Eric. If you want this thing to last, you guys need to keep it fresh.”
“Yeah this time my husband will spend date night with me instead of some chippie on the side,” I snickered.
“At least I hope so,” Dad chuckled.
“If he doesn’t he better be working on a new book.”
“I think my book mojo is coming back,” Eric said when he walked into the room freshly showered. He walked over to wrap his arm around my shoulder. “And yes, my Friday nights are fully dedicated to you.”
“Good. Dad’s got a wicked right cross,” I winked.
“And I’m not afraid to sucker punch you if need be,” Dad added.
“I don’t plan on giving you any reasons to hit me,” Eric replied. He seemed a lot more at ease.
“Dad and I were talking about house hunting. I was thinking that we don’t have to paint at your place if you don’t want to. It’s a lot of work for such a short time,” I said.
“I’ll probably have it painted before I rent it out,” Eric told me. “We can still get some lellow paint for Willa’s new room. It’ll give us good bonding time when she comes in to ‘help’ me.”
“She’s going to stick her hands in the paint and make prints all over the unpainted wall,” Dad chuckled. “That’ll be her help.”
“The walls, your butt, the floor, the dogs…” I laughed.
“I don’t even think she can reach my butt,” Eric joked. “Unless you’re talking about the mess you’re going to make.”
“Don’t let Sookie touch paint. She’s a handy girl, but she’s a complete mess when paint is involved,” Dad warned.
“You hush your mouth. I did all the trim painting on the first floor in here,” I said.
“Uh huh, and Alcide went back over it when you weren’t looking,” Dad snorted.
“Unless there was turpentine involved I’d say I did just fine,” I argued. Second coats weren’t uncommon.
“You’re getting a little defensive there, kiddo,” Dad told me.
“I’ll give you a shot. If it’s shit I’ll tell you and make you do a second coat,” Eric told me.
“Great,” I muttered. I stood up and added, “I’m going to go get Willa dressed.”
“I’m going to go. I just needed to make sure you weren’t completely insane,” Dad said.
“Willa, say goodbye to Papa!” I called out. Little feet came running into the room and I headed for the stairs.
Why Dad felt it necessary to say what he said was beyond me. I climbed the stairs and went to Willa’s room to get out an outfit for her. We did need to pick out a paint color and a new bed was in order, not to mention the new car seat.
Eric and Willa came upstairs and I asked Eric, “Have you ever changed a diaper?”
“Hmm, no,” he admitted.
“Not right this moment, but you’re going to have to learn,” I said.
“Okay,” he nodded. “It can’t be that hard, can it?”
“It’s not.” I knelt down and said, “Come on, munchkin, let’s change your butt and get dressed.”
Willa got a new diaper from the box and gave it to me before we got her jammies off. Eric watched while I changed the diaper.
“Hopefully we won’t be dealing with this for too much longer,” I told him. It would most likely be less than a year before she was out of diapers.
“No, but something tells me as soon as we get used to her pottying on her own we’ll be changing new diapers.”
“I’d have to go off birth control tomorrow to make that happen,” I chuckled. I got Willa’s shorts on and helped her up to put her shirt on.
“Then we’ll be waiting a little longer,” he smiled.
“Good call.” I got Willa’s shirt on and kissed her cheek. “You look beautiful, baby.”
“Go bye bye?”
“Soon. Do you want Mommy to go or just Eric?” I asked her. I was big on letting her choose.
“Eric,” she answered.
I was pretty sure Eric was close to pissing himself.
“Uh… what do I do?” he asked nervously.
“You can take my car. Just don’t let her out of your sight and hold her hand if you let her walk by herself. She’s fast.”
“You actually trust me with her?”
“I’m giving it a shot. If you have trouble I can hop in your truck and come find you,” I reasoned.
“Okay. Willa are you ready?” he asked.
“Shoes,” she replied, holding up a bare foot.
“I’m already a bad parent,” he sighed.
“No, you’re not. Willa, can you show Eric where your shoes are?” I got up off the floor and tossed the dirty diaper in the trashcan.
“Let’s go!” Willa charged out of the room.
“She’s a demanding little thing isn’t she?” Eric laughed.
“You’ll get used to it,” I laughed too.
He pulled me in for a lingering peck. “It scares the shit out of me to leave with her alone, but I know I need to get used to it. Thank you.”
“You’re welcome. My keys are on the hook by the front door. Call me if you need me,” I told him.
“I will. My keys are in the front pocket of my bag if you need them.”
“Okay. You’ll be fine,” I promised him. “Don’t let her have too much sugar if you give her a snack. Her diaper bag is in the trunk but you should be back before she needs to be changed.”
“Okay. Wish me luck.” He gave me one more kiss before he turned to leave the room.
“Go get ’em, tiger.” I slapped his ass.
“I’m gonna get you later,” he said over his shoulder.
“Promises, promises,” I sighed.
“I ready!” Willa hollered. No doubt she had picked two different shoes and had them on the wrong feet.
That was confirmed when Eric found her. I could hear his laugh from up the stairs. I stayed upstairs and listened while he got her shoes on right. Bless her for trying, though. I waited until I saw my SUV drive away before I started the shower. Letting him take her out alone was a big deal but it was an even bigger deal that Willa picked to go alone with him. I made sure the volume was turned up on my phone while I showered just in case.
Afterwards I put on a loose maxi dress and got out my tablet to look at the houses for sale nearby. Eric and I agreed we didn’t want to be living in the city and he was okay with staying relatively close by. I flagged a few properties but there was one in particular with two heated garages that were separate from the house. Depending on their size we could convert one into a workspace for him. I couldn’t imagine trying to focus on writing with a wild toddler running around.
The house was recently renovated and looked like a luxury cabin. It had four bedrooms and an open floor plan that would be good for keeping an eye on any munchkins that might be running around the house. The house sat on just over an acre lot and had gorgeous views. Molly and George would have room to run and play and there was good outdoor entertaining space.
Without hesitating I picked up my phone and called the Realtor for the property. My gut told me that was our home and I didn’t want anyone else to get it.