Poor Sookie was a ball of nerves. She only got worse when the back door to the café opened and Josie came bouncing through.
“Hey, princess,” I smiled as Jo came over to wrap her arms around my hip. She was definitely a daddy’s girl. Sookie was standing next to me with a nervous smile on her face. Felicia walked in behind Josie. She had her hair straightened, which she rarely did, with full makeup on. She was taller than Sookie with light mocha skin and big hazel eyes like Josie’s. “Felicia, this is Sookie, my girlfriend. Sookie, this is Josie’s mom, Felicia.”
Sookie held out her hand with a warm smile on her face. “It’s nice to meet you. Josie talks about you all the time,” she said.
“She talks about you too,” Felicia replied, taking Sookie’s hand. She wasn’t smiling, but she wasn’t scowling either. Sookie is the first girlfriend I’ve had that Josie’s met since the divorce.
“Are you hungry?” I asked. I knew Sookie wasn’t, she was a bit of a nervous eater.
“I’ll have a salad,” Felicia answered.
“What about you, princess?”
“Can I have a grilled cheese?” Josie asked.
“Of course you can,” I answered. “Sookie, are you hungry at all?” I had to offer.
“I’ll just have some soup,” she told me.
“Okay.” We were still in the kitchen so I turned to start getting Jo’s grilled cheese together.
“Sookie, how old are you?” Felicia asked. “What did you do before you worked here for Eric?”
“I’m twenty-six,” Sookie answered. “Before I worked here I was living in New York. Truthfully, this is my first job. I do have a degree in history, though. I attended Boston University.”
“She came from an affluent family in Louisiana,” I added when I noticed the look on Felicia’s face when Sookie said this was her first job. “She’s not after me for my money.”
“I wasn’t going to suggest that,” Felicia said. “I was just curious what kind of girl you’re allowing around our daughter.”
“I’ve never been in rehab either, in case you’re wondering,” Sookie offered.
“What’s rehab?” Josie asked.
“It’s where people go to get help when they’re addicted to something,” Felicia provided. “Have you ever been married?”
“I don’t see how that’s relevant,” I said.
“I’m curious,” she reminded me.
“It’s okay,” Sookie told me. “No, I haven’t been married. I was engaged to someone but it didn’t work out.”
I looked back from the stove to give Felicia a look, silently telling her to be nice.
“I’m not going to embarrass you, Eric,” she said. “Sookie, what do you do in your spare time? Thank you for making Jo’s costume, by the way. Thank you for doing her hair too. Her dad can get a nice ponytail if he’s lucky.”
“Hey, I try.” That was a lot more than I could say about other dads.
“It takes some practice. Making her costume was fun. I forgot how much I love sewing. It was the area of home economics I excelled at. Sadly, cooking is not my forte,” Sookie laughed.
“It’s true, Mom. Sookie isn’t good,” Josie said honestly.
Felicia chuckled. “So finding Eric was a bit of a godsend, huh?”
“Definitely. Bless his heart, he’s been tryin’ to help me and Josie’s been a great assistant in that area, but cooking’s just not in my wheelhouse,” Sookie said.
“He’s doing something right,” Felicia replied. I was shocked. Felicia never complimented me.
“Was that a compliment?” I interjected. “How would Jennifer feel about that?”
“None of your business,” she said.
“Can I get either of you something to drink?” Sookie offered to Felicia and Josie.
“Chocolate milk!” Josie said without hesitation.
“Don’t make her the chocolate milk you like either,” I said. “I don’t want to pay for new teeth if she rots them out.”
“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” Sookie replied seriously.
“Uh huh,” I chuckled.
Josie’s grilled cheese didn’t take too long to make. Felicia didn’t respond to the drink offer. She grabbed a cup and got her own lemonade. I started on Felicia’s salad.
“Jo, come get your sandwich,” I called. Sookie and Felicia were standing there awkwardly quiet. Felicia was watching Sookie while Sookie moved around the kitchen, straightening things. I didn’t know what to say to either one of them. Felicia and I didn’t talk about anything besides our daughter. It was strange being around her for so long.
“Thank you, Daddy,” Jo said when she took her plate.
“You’re welcome.” I dished up Sookie’s soup and finished off Felicia’s salad. “Do you guys want to go into the dining room?” I asked.
“Aren’t you going to eat?” Sookie asked me.
“I’m fine,” I shrugged. “I’ll eat tonight.”
“Okay,” Sookie said. She picked up her soup and headed for the dining room.
Felicia followed her; I grabbed Josie’s chocolate milk that Sookie made. It wasn’t too chocolaty. When we all sat down at one of the booths. I slid in next to Sookie while Josie sat next to her mother. Josie didn’t seem to notice the awkwardness as the girls ate. I didn’t know why Felicia wanted to have lunch with us. She just needed to say hi and bye when I dropped Jo off or picked her up.
“So… what’s new with you?” I asked Felicia.
“Nothing really, I was promoted at work a while ago,” she told me.
“That’s great.” Felicia worked for an insurance company. It was a regular 9 to 5, which made her happy. I looked at Sookie to tell her, “She works at a life insurance company.”
“I’ve been supervising for the last six months,” she added.
“Oh. Congratulations on your promotion,” Sookie said sincerely.
“Thank you,” Felicia smiled at her. I felt like I was in an alternate universe. Felicia was being nice… she liked Sookie’s tits.
“What made you want to get into insurance, if you don’t mind me asking,” Sookie said.
“After the split I needed anything I could get. Eric paid alimony for the first two years, since I was a housewife, but I needed something to do. Since we have split custody I’m not asking for child support,” Felicia explained. “A friend of a friend said my company was hiring, I applied and got it.”
“And you like what you do?” Sookie asked. She reached for the bottle of hot sauce that was off to the side in a little carafe.
“I didn’t for a long time, but then I was miserable at home,” Felicia admitted. “Things weren’t easy for me after our split. I was unhappy with what was going on with Eric. I was unhappy with myself for causing a lot of our grief, but then things got easier. I stopped hating myself so much and started to enjoy leaving the house again. Right around then the job got easier and I’ve excelled. I’m a better salesperson than I thought I was.” I had no idea Felicia had a hard time after our split. It made sense when I thought about it. It wasn’t the best time for any of us.
“Were you unhappy with me too?” Josie asked her mom.
“No, baby, I could never be unhappy with you,” she promised Jo. “You were what made me the happiest.”
Josie smiled and then proceeded to get cheese on her chin with the next bite of her sandwich.
“It’s good that you’re in a better place. I don’t have children of my own but when I think about what it would have meant for any future kids if I had stayed with my fiancé, it makes me glad I left when I did. I can’t imagine how difficult that must have been for both of you and for similar but also very different reasons,” Sookie said sympathetically.
“We still have our ups and downs but I like to think we’re finally hitting that friendship point,” I said.
“That sounds about right,” Felicia agreed. “I don’t want to kick him in the shin every time I see him.”
“It’s not nice to hit, Mom,” Josie reminded her mother, making Sookie smile at her soup.
“I know, that’s why I never do it,” Felicia chuckled. “I’m sure you and Eric can have that conversation when there aren’t any little ears around. I trust he won’t slander me too much.”
“I’ll try not to,” I teased.
“He’s actually been very complimentary to you,” Sookie said.
“Huh, I would’ve never guessed,” Felicia responded. “I guess we have to practice what we preach.”
“Daddy can we get ice cream after this?” Josie asked, completely out of left field.
“We have ice cream at the house,” I reminded her.
“But it’s better at the store.”
“Sookie, do you want to go get ice cream?” I should’ve said no. We didn’t need to go buy more but it was just ice cream… right?
“Now I know why she always wants her way,” Felicia commented.
“If you’d like to, that’s fine with me,” Sookie answered.
“Yes!” Josie grinned.
“You’re just as bad as he is,” Felicia chuckled.
“We’ll stop at that place by the beach, okay?” They had delicious vanilla bean.
“That place is my favorite,” Josie said.
Every place was her favorite.
“Sookie, what is your family like? Are they anything like Eric’s? Have you met his mother yet?”
“No, I haven’t met his mother yet. Eric doesn’t talk about his family much. Mine is… well, I’m not speaking with my parents at the moment. They weren’t happy with my decision to leave my fiancé and they’re probably not going to be much happier about some of the choices I’ve made in the last few months since I moved here, but that’s their problem and not mine,” Sookie said confidently. “My mother is an uptight control freak and my dad is more concerned with the family business than he is with the actual family. I have an older brother but Jason and I have never been very close. He’s married and has three kids but they’re little goblins that I don’t like very much. I think it’s safe to say that my real family is the one I’ve created for myself out of friends.”
I took her hand under the table. I knew I was one of those choices they weren’t going to like. They could go fuck themselves for all I cared.
“I took Sookie to get her first tattoo,” I chuckled. “Her parents are going to hate me.”
“Not if they take the chance to get to know you.” I wasn’t used to nice Felicia.
“I’m not too worried about it,” Sookie shrugged. “I’ve never been too close to my parents. I was raised mostly by nannies and my teachers at boarding school anyway. Josie’s lucky she has two parents are so invested in her well-being and want to give her the best life they can.”
“Thanks. We may have not always gotten along but we’ve always tried to do what’s best for Jo,” Felicia replied.
“That’s good,” Sookie nodded.
“Sookie’s gonna teach me how to sew,” Josie volunteered.
“That’s very nice of Sookie. Did you tell her thank you for teaching you?”
“Not yet. She didn’t teach me yet,” Jo answered.
“Are you okay with Sookie being around Jo alone?” I asked Felicia. I didn’t know if I was ever going to leave them alone but I needed to know.
“If you trust her, yes I’m fine with it,” she answered.
“I just want you to know that I’m not going to try to take your place or anything,” Sookie informed Felicia. “You’re Josie’s mom and that’s that. I have no desire to try and talk her into calling me mommy or trying to push you out, so you don’t have to worry about that. I do like spending time with your daughter though. She’s funny and smart and a very creative kid, and I don’t mind doing the mom-like stuff when she’s around because no girl should have to suffer through a dad’s ponytail all day–”
“Hey!” I looked at Sookie. I was a little offended by that. “I make sure all the bumps are smoothed out.”
Sookie patted my arm like she was placating me before she continued, “He’s a good dad, there’s no denying that. It’s obvious to me that there is nothing in the world more important than Josie, and if she and I didn’t get along, I know we wouldn’t be a couple. She should always come first, but I’m happy he’s letting me into the equation.”
“I don’t say a lot of nice things about him anymore, but he is good father. I could have done a lot worse,” Felicia admitted. “He makes good choices for our little munchkin.”
I gave Felicia a warm smile when we made eye contact.
“I’m not a munchkin. I’m almost as tall as Sookie,” Jo said.
“Sookie’s a munchkin too,” I chuckled.
“Pfffft… Whatever, beanpole,” Sookie snorted. “At least I always fit in a bed comfortably.”
“I do too.” I also curled up in my sleep. That didn’t hurt.
“That’s because you wrap around the closest warm body,” Felicia snickered.
“Like a boa constrictor,” Sookie added.
“It’s nice in the winter. You’re going to hate the summer nights with him.” I loved how she said that like I wasn’t there.
“So next summer I’ll be sleeping alone,” Sookie laughed.
“Jo and I are going to sneak in and take over,” I smiled. “We’ll bring Dimples too.”
“Yeah, sleepover at Sookie’s house,” Jo grinned.
“I’m going to get a stinky, mean bulldog to keep you away,” Sookie threatened with a wink.
“Are you kidding? Any being that meets Jo is instantly in love with her,” Felicia laughed. “She has the Northman charms going for her.”
“That’s how come I already have three husbands,” Jo said.
I looked at her like she was crazy.
“Three?” I asked to clarify. Marrying Landon was one thing… Felicia and I needed to have a discussion about that.
“Yup,” Josie nodded. She clearly saw no harm in it.
“How do you have three husbands? I don’t know if I’m comfortable with this,” I told her.
“Because they asked and Mommy said I should always give anyone a chance,” Jo shrugged.
“That doesn’t mean everyone.” Felicia shrugged too when I looked at her. “We’re going to talk about this later.” It wasn’t the time to discuss her giving everyone chances. It was fine when it was innocent, but that innocence wasn’t always going to come into play and I didn’t want my princess to become the school door knob. I didn’t want anyone getting a turn… not until she was married… after she was forty. Or I was dead.
I saw Sookie shaking her head out of the corner of my eye and Jo got that look on her face she always got when she thought she was in trouble. First the lip trembled and then the tears came…
“Jo, I’m not mad,” I assured her as Felicia wrapped an arm around her. “I just mean we need to talk about what that means later. You’re not in trouble, princess.”
“Eric, I’m sure it’s just playing around,” Sookie said. “I doubt they’re house hunting during recess.”
“I understand that,” I told her. “We’ll talk about it later.” I understood what she was saying, and I agreed, but I wasn’t thinking about what she was doing then. I was worried about the long run.
The whole table went silent. No one seemed to know how to respond. I had to talk to Felicia about what she was telling Josie. She was to an age where boys were going to start being attracted to boys, or girls depending. We needed to be on the same page.