Sookie stood with me, curled against my side as we waited for Johan to come off his plane. My idiot brother opted to take a flight that would have him arriving at O’Hare at just after two in the morning. He’d offered to take a cab to my place but I didn’t want him ringing the bell like a jackass and making all sorts of noise that would piss off my neighbors. There are very few things my brother does quietly and has little regard for subtlety. I’ve warned Sookie of these things but that hasn’t dampened her spirits one bit. She’s anxious to meet my twin. I can only hope that he doesn’t scare the hell out of her and send her running the other way.
“Eric, honey, you need to relax. You’re driving me nuts.” Sookie stroked my back with her small hand while she nuzzled against me. Her voice was quiet and dreamy. I could kick my brother for arriving in the middle of the night like this.
“Sorry. Why don’t we sit?” I suggested.
“Nuh uh.” Sookie shook her head against my side. “If I sit down, I’m staying down and I don’t think you want to carry me back to the car.”
“If I didn’t, I’m sure Johan would.” I teased her and she pinched me. “Ouch!”
“You’re such a big baby.” She teased.
“I’ll be expecting you to kiss that better when we get home.” I leaned down to kiss the top of her head.
“Put it on my tab.” She squeezed me closer to her just as the door finally opened.
I heard Johan before I saw him. I love my brother but he can be a walking clusterfuck. His rowdy departure from the plane was a shining example. He was walking between two women who were obviously from the motherland. They were both immaculately tanned with blond hair, blue eyes and designer clothes on. My brother, ever the self-proclaimed pimp, paused to kiss each girl’s cheek before releasing them into their own worlds again. He spotted me standing there with Sookie leaning on me, half asleep and very close to needing me to carry her back to the car anyway. One of my fingers grazes over her nipple and she perked right up. She slapped at my hand but then noticed where I was looking.
“Lillebror!” Johan dropped his carry on bag and launched himself at me like a soldier returning from war.
Sookie barely got out of the way in time before I found myself wrapped in the biggest bear hug of my life. For all of my bitching about Johan, I do love the man. The look on Sookie’s face to essentially see two of me standing before her was priceless. I wished I had a camera to capture her expression.
Before I could make formal introductions, Johan lost his interest in me and latched onto Sookie instead. She was hauled up in the air, wrapped in my brother’s arms. I could tell she was nervous and wasn’t quite sure how to react to him. He gave her the stereotypical European kisses on each cheek, which he normally skipped over, so I know it’s just an excuse to kiss my girl. I’ll kick his ass for that later.
“You must be Sookie.” He hadn’t set her down yet.
“And you better be Johan or I’ll kick Eric’s ass for not telling me there’s three of you.” Sookie shot right back, making both of us laugh. I loved her sass.
“I don’t think the world could handle three of us.” Johan looked back at me.
“I’m not sure it can handle two.” Sookie looked over at me with amusement in her eyes.
“Hey, storebror, why don’t you put her down?”
“Jealous?” Johan wiggled his eyebrows at me, and for the first time I realized how ridiculous that must look to Sookie.
“I could use some oxygen, Johan.” Sookie tapped him politely on the shoulder.
“My apologies, lilla docka.” He kissed her forehead and set her down. The gratuitous kissing needed to stop and I told him so in Swedish.
Sookie looked back and forth between us, sensing some irritation to my mood. She stepped closer to me and took my hand. “Now boys, no fighting or I’ll have to send you to bed without any of that tasty cake I baked earlier.”
That was more of a threat for Johan since I was sure Sookie would withhold much more than cake from me. I took her hand and we headed toward the baggage claim to get Johan’s luggage. Johan filled us in on his flight. He’d stopped at Heathrow before catching a connecting flight to Chicago. Of course he hadn’t slept at all on the flight but that was a good thing. It meant he’d drop like a log when we got him back to the house. I was thankful for that since I knew Sookie was exhausted and I was pretty close to passing out myself. We would have to wait to really get into conversation until after we’d all gotten some sleep.
On the drive back to my house Johan insisted that Sookie sit in the front seat even though she’d offered to sit in back so Johan and I could catch up a little. I was thankful that my brother at least had the sense not to take her up on it. I held her hand all the way back to the house, which thankfully, wasn’t too far from the airport. At almost three in the morning there weren’t many cars on the road once we got away from the airport. Before I knew it we were turning onto Belmont and then onto my street a few blocks later.
Johan was interviewing Sookie diligently, asking her all sorts of questions about where she’d grown up and her family. He was as nosy as our mother. Sookie handled it like a champ but I figured if she could not only survive Pam, but come to like Pam, then Johan would be a cake walk. Jeter was waiting at the front door all anxious for us to return. The second he caught wind of Johan’s scent he went nuts.
Johan was on the ground wrestling with his dog like they hadn’t been separated for more than a year. I had a feeling Sookie and I would be chopped liver to him for the duration of Johan’s stay, which was just fine with me. Even though I’d told her not to, Sookie had put fresh sheets on the bed in the guest room and had opened the windows to air it out a little bit. When I told her not to help me with Johan’s luggage she looked put out by it. I rolled my eyes and took the bags down the hall to the spare bedroom.
“Johan can I get you something to drink?” Sookie offered once I was back in the room.
“What do you have?” Johan had Jeter in a headlock. The dog would be worn out in no time.
Sookie made her way to the kitchen with my twin and I in her wake. She opened the fridge and ran down the list of things inside. I was thankful I had fought the urge to buy energy drinks or I had no doubt Johan would be drinking one. I didn’t need him keeping us up all night long. As it was, I was ready to turn in for the night. He settled for orange juice, of all things, and made himself comfortable on the couch.
Sookie yawned beside me. “You ready for bed, lover?”
She nodded sleepily. “I’m sorry. I really thought that nap we took earlier would give me a bigger energy boost.”
“It’s been a long day.” I smiled at her.
The nap she was referring to included a quickie before taking a twenty minute power nap on my couch. We’d had a football game to go to. We’d stopped by her place with the intention of picking up her overnight bag since she was spending the weekend at my place, and we’d ended up having sex a second time. Not that I was complaining, mind you, but it took more energy than it gave us. As tired as I was, if Sookie would let me go another round with her I wouldn’t turn her down.
“I’m sorry for ducking out so early, but I’m exhausted. Sleep well, Johan.” Sookie gave him a shy wave.
My brother, never one to miss an opportunity, shot off the couch and wrapped her in another hug. Sookie hugged him back and even kissed him on the cheek. She wasn’t intentionally encouraging him but she was encouraging him all the same.
“We’ll catch up in the morning, lilla docka.” Johan let her down and she scampered off toward my bedroom. More and more I was thinking of it as our bedroom. Once the door was closed Johan turned toward me. “I like her, bror.”
“Hands off.” I reminded him sternly.
“I’m not in the business of stealing girlfriends, bror. Especially not from you.” Johan assured me before resuming his place on the couch. “Are you living together?”
“Not yet.” I said quietly and sat down on the couch next to him.
“Why not? I don’t think I’d ever be able to get out of bed if I…”
“Don’t finish that sentence.” I had to laugh. I knew what he was thinking, as if the way he was staring at my bedroom door didn’t give it all away. “And don’t even think about trying to pretend to be me. She’ll kick your ass.”
“You think I couldn’t pull it off?”
“Not a chance. Other women might go for it, but she’d know. Trust me.”
“No fun.” He pouted.
“Don’t worry, bror, you’ll see Pam tomorrow.” I couldn’t wait to see what sort of tricks he had up his sleeve to try and convince Pam to give dick a chance.
“You know, I’m convinced I haven’t hit that yet because I look like you.” Johan glared at me, completely serious.
I didn’t even know what to say to that. “Hey, I could have closed the deal with her. I just didn’t want to go there with her.”
“I’m not giving up.” Johan warned me and I just shook my head.
“Well, speaking of getting laid, I’m going to bed.” I got up off the couch.
In a rare moment of clarity, Johan had the tact to switch to Swedish before asking, “Du är på allvar kommer att gå in och knulla din flickvän med mig sovande höger i korridoren? Du är en skitstövel.”
I shrugged. “Bror, if the shoe were on the other foot, what would you do?”
“I’d already be fucking her.” Johan grinned, all traces of tact completely gone.
“Goodnight, storebror, and no molesting Sookie in her sleep.” I said over my shoulder as I went to the bedroom.
“Only if she asks me to. Goodnight, lillebror.”
It was the sound of Sookie’s laughter that pulled me from my sleep sometime later. I reached out, expecting to find her next to me pushing Jeter away from her feet. That damn dog had a foot fetish where my girlfriend was concerned and more than once, he’d woken her up by licking her feet. But Sookie’s side of the bed was empty and slightly cool. She’d been up for a while. Then I remembered my idiot brother was in town and I jumped out of bed.
The laughter was coming from the guest room. I walked down the hall to find Sookie in bed with my brother. She wasn’t cuddled up next to him, just sitting on her feet toward the edge of the bed, keeping a respectable distance from him. I was relieved to find Johan under the blankets. He took the same stance on nudity as I did, as in it was no big deal, but I knew Sookie didn’t feel that way. She was modest, even around me, and I’d seen everything on her body there was to see- repeatedly. I willed away thoughts of a naked Sookie before I had an embarrassing situation on my hands.
“If you think that’s funny, you’ll love this. So there’s this one time we drove up to Laguna,” I already know what story he’s going to tell and I want to go in there and stop him. “Eric has a thing for this girl that lives up there. I don’t remember what her name was but I called her Tits McGee-”
“Classy.” Sookie interjects with a laugh.
“Thank you. So we go up there and Eric’s trying to make it sound like he just really wants to hit the waves but I’ve seen him making eyes at this chick for the last month. She never paid any attention to either one of us which was pretty uncommon.” It sounds egotistical, but it’s also entirely true. Just one of us garners a lot of looks from the female population but the two of us together is like some big anomaly that gets all sorts of gaping stares.
“Not that you need me stroking your ego anymore than Eric does, but I can understand why. If I saw the two of you walking around on a beach I’d probably lose my shit a little bit, too.” Sookie admitted, which made Johan laugh. I admit, I chuckled a little in the hallway, too. I kept out of sight and just listened to the two of them talk.
“So there’s my lillebror acting all bad ass trying to get this girl’s attention. He’s doing every trick on a surfboard he can think of to do. The swell comes up and he’s riding the waves pretty well. It was actually bordering on some legendary hang time. Then, less than gracefully, he lost his balance and face planted in the water.” He wasn’t embellishing at all. It was a good ride and it hurt like a motherfucker when I fell.
“Ouch.” Sookie winced on my seventeen-year-old self’s behalf.
“But Eric takes it like a champ and pops up a few seconds later. It’s not that unusual for surfers to fall, but it’s a bit of a spectacle when it’s a dude that’s as tall as we are. So here he comes up to the shore to make another run when a sudden swell comes crashing up against the shore. It was a pretty righteous wall of water that hit. Somehow his board got under him again and the next thing you know he’s being tossed onto the beach, face first, with his board under him to soften the fall.” Johan was laughing hysterically.
“Are surfboards soft?” No. Hell fucking no.
Johan sucked in air and said, “Ask his capped tooth.”
Sookie gasped and then giggled. “Oh no! Oh, please tell me that at least Tits McGee was impressed enough with him to go out with him.” I found it amusing that my girlfriend was rooting for me to be with another girl at any point in my life, and that she would refer to said girl as Tits McGee.
At that point I showed myself in the doorway but Sookie couldn’t see me there since I was behind her. “He did eventually get the girl but it turned out his board had more personality than she did. I tried to tell him that would happen but he was insistent. So ever since then we have a scale on which we rate girls and if you get classified as a Tits McGee, there’s serious consideration as to whether or not to make an investment.”
He was right about that. Her name was Valeria and that was the most interesting thing about her. While she was absolutely a knock out, she wasn’t at all interesting. Even my teenage self knew she would be a waste of my time and money. We went out on the worst date of my dating history and I never called her again. I couldn’t believe Johan was telling her about the rating system. That was supposed to stay between us. Not even Pam knew about that shit.
“Oh really? So where do I fall on your scale?” Sookie asked in a teasing manner.
Johan shot me a quick look and I shook my head. I had a feeling I knew what he was going to say just so he could mess with her a little. Part of me wanted to revert to the way he and I had been as kids and tease her mercilessly like we’d done with Annika. The other part- the protective boyfriend part- wanted to steal her out of the room before he could say anything that might offend her in the slightest.
Johan gave Sookie an appraising look before he said something that shocked the hell out of me. “He should marry you.”
Sookie sputtered for a second before formulating her response. “I think it’s a little soon to talk about that.”
I perked up at the realization that it wasn’t a no, or an outright denial. I felt my own heart speed up a little at the idea of marrying her. We hadn’t gotten that far in relationship talks just yet. We weren’t even talking about living together. It was too soon. We’d only been together for about a month. The biggest of our plans so far was deciding on a Halloween costume for the party at the bar. We talked about which house we would stay at for the weekend and whether we wanted to go out for dinner or stay in. We hadn’t discussed anything long-term.
He cursed in Swedish and said, “Sookie, don’t waste time. If you know he’s the one, then that’s all that counts.”
I saw the pained expression that landed on Johan’s face and I knew he was thinking about Thalia. They’d dated when he was in New York, and while Johan never said as much, I suspect part of his decision to move to Sweden had something to do with their breakup. It had been messy and he hadn’t taken it very well at all. Thalia was his Sookie and he’d dicked around too much and lost her. She ended up marrying some guy named Charles who looked like a pirate. Thalia was Johan’s achilles heel.
I cleared my throat to let them know I was there and as soon as Sookie whipped around to see me standing there, that telltale blush crept up her neck. Johan definitely had jump started her thinking about the future. I wasn’t sure if I should thank him or punch him in the balls for it. Only time would tell.
“Good morning.” I smiled at them.
Not quite ready to give up on giving Sookie a hard time yet, Johan said, “To answer your question, Sookie, you are definitely not a Tits McGee. In fact, I think you just created a new notch on the scale.”
Sookie’s blush only got deeper before she scampered off the bed. She stopped in front of me to give me a good morning kiss. “I’m going to go start breakfast.” She slapped my ass and then went to the kitchen.
We waited until she was out of earshot before Johan said anything. “Seriously, bror, put a fucking ring on her finger before some peg leg looking motherfucker does it for you.”
“They’re not all like Thalia, bror.”
“Yes, they are, Eric. Some are just better at hiding it than others.” Johan said with a pained expression on his face.
I made a resolution right then and there to make sure I never ended up like Johan, pining for the one that go away. In the distance I heard Sookie humming the melody of “Heart Shaped Box” and I wondered if maybe she’d overheard our conversation. If she did, she showed no signs of it when I met her in the kitchen.
“Need help?” I looked at the ingredients gathered on the island.
She gave me one of her challenging grins and asked, “How are you at flipping pancakes?”
I grinned at her and watched as she mouthed the words along with me, “Pretty fucking ninja.”
She laughed and handed me a spatula. “I knew you were going to say that.” She pushed herself up on her toes and kissed me before getting back to cooking.
I spent the afternoon with Johan and Jeter at the park I’d gone to shoot hoops at the day before school started. I hadn’t been back since. I’d been far too busy with Sookie over the last few weeks to get in a decent game. Johan wasn’t the most skilled basketball player but his height gave him an advantage, regardless of his talent. We were just clowning around, calling the most ridiculous shots for one another to take. We’d had the court to ourselves for about an hour when the group of kids I’d played with last time appeared.
“Hey, old man, where you been? I was starting to think you broke a hip, or something.” Quentin taunted me as he walked out onto the court.
“Jesus, Eric, how old do these kids think you are?” Johan looked back and forth between Quentin and me. I just shrugged.
“I’ve been busy, Quentin.” I didn’t feel the need to get much deeper into it than that.
“Yeah, I heard.” Quentin seemed to know more than he was willing to let on himself. “I also heard you’re gonna be my coach this season.”
“That’s assuming you make my team.”
Quentin looked shocked that I would insinuate at a possibility he might not make it. “Coach, let me break it down for you. I’m the best you got, believe me. If you want to win any games this year, you’re gonna need me.”
I looked over at Johan who was shaking his head. “You want to take this one?” I asked my brother.
“You let your clone speak for you?” Quentin didn’t seem to care that he was speaking out of turn, or that I was taking note of this attitude.
“Hey, Junior, while your confidence is a must when you’re on the court, you might want to remember you aren’t guaranteed a walk onto it. When you talk to my brother, and the man you hope will be your coach, you should do so with respect.” Johan had no trouble putting the kid in his place.
Quentin didn’t look the slightest bit phased by Johan’s admonishment. “Look, I just came out here to have fun. I didn’t realize it was senior citizen hour.”
He was going to be trouble. The worst of it was, I was pretty sure he was right about needing him on the team. His ego was going to be the biggest problem. He was going to need to learn to function as a team member and not as a hero. I could see his hunger for a win, but if he was going to drag my team down with all of his self-important bullshit I wasn’t sure it’d be worth it to take him. I’d rather fight for every win with a team that got along than have rivalry within my own team just to keep our scoring records on the positive side.
“He’s going to be trouble.” Johan predicted.
I nodded my agreement. We went back to goofing around for a while and I only looked Quentin’s way a handful of times before we decided to call it quits and let the kids have the court to themselves. We walked back to the house and showered up. Sookie was at a football game and would be meeting us at the house before we went up to the bar. Johan was all sorts of anxious to see Pam again. While she wouldn’t admit it, I knew Pam was excited Johan was in town as well. She’d been stocking up on insults over the last few weeks and was just waiting to hurl them at him.
The two of them could put on quite a show. We were in the kitchen drinking beers when Sookie pulled up to the house. She was dressed in her poms outfit which was a pair of tight maroon yoga pants with her last name spelled across her ass in gold letters, and a gold tank top with an eagle- the school’s mascot- on the front of it. Her hair was pulled back in a high ponytail and she was wearing more makeup than usual. She always went to the games ready to stand in in case one of her girls didn’t show up for some reason. Watching her practice her routines on the weekends was one of the best perks of being her boyfriend. My girl was nothing if not a good dancer.
“Holy fucking hell, bror! She’s a cheerleader?” Johan looked like he was going to have a stroke as he watched Sookie walk up to the house.
“Poms.” I clarified for him.
“What’s the difference?” He couldn’t take his eyes off Sookie.
“She dances instead of cheering.” I grinned at him.
“I hate you.” Johan deadpanned.
“Wipe the drool, bror, she’s taken.” I threw a towel at him as the front door opened.
“Hello?” Sookie called out. How she missed Johan staring at her from the kitchen table, I have no idea.
“In here!” I called out.
Sookie appeared in the doorway with her warm up jacket hanging open and her cleavage enticing me into dragging her into the bedroom to help her make sure she washed every square inch of her back. A look at my brother told me he was thinking the very same thing. He gave me the death glare and then chugged the rest of his beer.
“How was the game?” I bent to kiss her.
“JV didn’t do so hot, but Varsity is going to end up at State if they keep playing like they have been. Alcide looked like he was ready to shit a rainbow he was so happy.” Sookie informed us, causing Johan to choke on his beer.
“Shit a rainbow?” He asked when he stopped sputtering and then starting laughing loudly. When we found something amusing we had the same booming laugh.
Sookie reached into her bag and handed me an envelope. “Here. I thought you might want to see these.”
“What are they?”
“Just look at them. I’m going to go take a shower.” Sookie pecked me on the cheek and turned to walk away.
“I can help you with that!” Johan offered, earning a him a growl.
“Save it for Pam!” Sookie shouted back, not at all phased by the ridiculous pickup lines Johan had been hurling at her all day.
“You’ve got to cut that shit out, bror.” I sat down at the table across from him and opened the envelope Sookie had given me.
It was full of pictures from the dance the week before. Oh, what a night that was. I’d avoided those dances like the plague when I was in high school. They were much more Johan’s thing and he only went because it was an excuse to feel up on girls on the dance floor without getting slapped for it. I’d told Sookie as much, which was why she was so surprised when I offered to chaperon right along with her. I think she was pretty well onto me that it was a bit of a jealousy thing but she didn’t say a word about it. If she suspected, she kept it to herself.
She looked like a goddess that night. We’d managed to behave ourselves, for the most part. I’d caught her briefly when she was walking out of the bathroom and pulled her under the bleachers. It was the best three minutes of the entire night- at least until after we left the dance. My girl could be a tiger when she wanted to. She broke her rules yet again and I started to wonder if maybe the key to getting her to do so was to pick the right moment. Prior to her bathroom break we’d been out on the dance floor, keeping a respectable distance between us. Well, right up until the slow dance, that is.
The DJ had played a slow acoustic mix of a woman covering the Bryan Adams song “Heaven,” and the lyrics weren’t at all lost on me while we were dancing. Her little body fit perfectly against mine and it was hard to believe I’d gone more than thirty years without her in my arms. We couldn’t stop staring at one another- or smiling, for that matter- and at the end of the song there was nothing I wanted more than to kiss her until we had to pull away to breathe. I wanted to do other things, too, but I’d settle for kissing her. Turns out I got my wish when she let me take her under the bleachers for those few minutes. She didn’t even try to fight me.
The following Monday there were rumors flying around the school that Sookie and I were dating. I didn’t even realize anyone was paying attention to us, I was so busy looking at her. Apparently our students had taken notice of how comfortable we were with one another, much more so than just two co-workers would be. It wasn’t until Thursday that Sookie’s student aid, Jessica, got up the nerve to ask Sookie if she and I were a couple. Sookie and I had talked about it and since our superiors were made aware of our decision to date, we saw no reason to hide it from our students. So, Sookie told Jessica the truth. By Friday morning I was getting angry glares from teenage boys who didn’t at all like the idea of their dream girl being off the market.
Johan looked at the pictures when I was done. He held up one of Sookie and I while we were slow dancing. “Don’t let Mom see this or she’s going to ask when she should start knitting baby blankets,” he warned with a smirk.
I laughed because I knew he was right and because I didn’t want him to know that all of his talk about marriage was starting to get into my head. I told myself we’d only been together for a month. We hadn’t even said we loved each other yet. Thinking about marriage and babies was just way too much, way too soon. Still, the thoughts were wiggling around in my head, and for the first time in my life, I wasn’t anywhere near tempted to cut and run.
I was scared to death.