Sookie’s brother was a man child. It was obvious to me that if he and Johan ever got together, it would be like corralling a couple of twelve-year-olds. It was almost like having my own brother back for a bit. We formed a quick alliance with one another and fell into a marathon of animated hilarity. I’d staunchly objected to Family Guy when Johan first introduced me to it, but it was just too funny not to fall head over heels in love with. And don’t let Sookie fool you- she laughs at the show just as much as anyone else who watches it.
We were three episodes in when Jason’s wife, Crystal, ran through the living room with her hand covering her mouth. Jason groaned and then got up to follow her to the bathroom. He got there a minute too late and the door was already slammed and locked. He returned to the couch with a sour expression on his face.
“Is Crystal sick?” I asked when I noted the pained expression on his face.
“Porch.” Was all Jason said and then headed for the front door.
I paused the DVD and followed him outside. It was chilly out but not nearly as rough as it probably was back in Chicago. Jason leaned against the railing on the porch and craned his head around me to make sure no one was following us outside. Whatever he was about to say was clearly something big and it surprised me he was trusting me with this information.
“You gotta swear you won’t tell Sookie about this. I mean, Crystal and I are planning on telling everyone at dinner, but it’s sort of a surprise kind of thing.” Jason said and from the way his face had turned a bit green, I had an idea of what he was going to say.
“You have my word.” I nodded.
Jason exhaled slowly and then said, “Crystal’s pregnant. I mean, well, she was pregnant when I married her but we never told anyone that. She lost the baby and we never told anyone that either. But we just found out last week she’s pregnant again. She’s scared out of her mind she’s gonna lose this baby, too, and I guess so am I. She took the miscarriage really hard, like it was something she did. She did everything perfect. I tried to tell her it wasn’t her fault but the more I told her that, the more angry with me she got and the more she just wanted to get pregnant again. I’m worried she’s putting too much pressure on herself to have a baby.”
Huh. Deep thoughts from someone Sookie had claimed to have the emotional maturity of a lemon. “I can see that.”
“You don’t have kids, do you?” Jason arched an eyebrow at me.
“Uh, no. No kids, never been married.”
He nodded and said, “You thinking about marrying my sister?”
Way to put me on the spot, Jason. “We haven’t really gotten that far.”
“Come on, man, you know what I’m talking about. Just because you haven’t discussed it between the two of you doesn’t mean you haven’t thought about it. Something tells me you do. You wouldn’t have pulled her out of a burning car if you hadn’t.” Again with the astute observations. Did Sookie really know her brother?
“You swear you won’t tell Sookie?” I looked at him pointedly.
“Cross my heart.” Jason motioned over his chest.
“Yeah, I’ve thought about it. I’ve been thinking about it a lot since the accident. Crazy how it takes something so extreme to make a person realize how much they love someone else.”
“Man, Crystal and I fight like cats and dogs sometimes, but I don’t know what I’d do if I lost her. She drives me crazy a lot of the time, and the rest of the time I don’t understand what she’s on my case about. But I know she loves me. She puts up with all my shit. And in spite of all the bonehead things I say and do, she still wants to have babies with me. That’s gotta mean something. I mean, women are a lot smarter than we are when it comes to stuff like this.” Jason shook his head and looked off into the distance. “I think you’re good for my sister.”
“That Quinn…” Jason growled and turned his face to mine. “He let her think she was the one. He broke her heart in about a thousand different ways. So I guess I’m telling you that if you have no intention of sticking around for the long haul, then do her a favor and let her go. She deserves better than being yanked around.”
“I absolutely agree with you.”
“Good. ‘Cause I like you. I would hate to have to shoot out your kneecaps.” Jason said with a toothy grin on his face.
Just then the door opened and Michelle stuck her head outside. “Sorry to interrupt boys, but is everything okay with Crystal?”
“She’s been a bit under the weather lately, Mom. I’ll go in and check on her in a minute.” Jason promised.
“Well what’s wrong with her? She turned green and bolted from the kitchen before I could ask.”
“Just a little stomach thing that’s been going around at the preschool.” Jason lied so effortlessly.
“You’re sure it’s nothing? I don’t want her getting everyone sick-”
“Mom! Your sausage is burning!” Sookie called from the kitchen.
“Oh, shit!” Michelle ran back toward the kitchen, leaving the front door open a few inches.
“Look, Jason, I don’t really know much about marriage and babies so I don’t know what kind of advice I can give you, but pregnancy is a very different experience for women than it is for us. I think it’s pretty natural for the woman to feel like she failed in some capacity if she loses a baby. So long as she’s not trying to replace the one she lost, I think it’ll be fine.” I advised him.
“Yeah, yeah, I hope you’re right.” Jason nodded before stretching his arms up over his head. “Well, I better go check on her. I’ll meet you back in the living room in ten.”
“Good deal.” I nodded and watched him walk into the house as Sookie was coming outside. There was a thick gray sweater wrapped around her.
“Aren’t you cold?” She looked up at me with concern on her face.
“A little.” I pulled her close and wrapped my arms around her. Her usual smell in combination with the food being prepared was a pretty intoxicating blend. “Are you sure I can’t talk you into sneaking upstairs? You smell good enough to eat.”
She rolled her eyes at me and said, “No, but if you play nice with my brother I’ll save you an extra piece of dessert.” She winked at me.
Shit. Now I was going to be thinking about all of the ways that could be taken for the rest of the afternoon. Minx. God, I loved her. She had just pulled me face to hers when a truck pulled up in front of the house. Sookie kissed my neck (did I mention she’s a minx?) before turning to greet the visitors. A blond woman about Sookie’s height and shape emerged from the truck before going to the backseat to release a child from his car seat. She set the little boy down and as soon as he set eyes on Sookie, he screamed her name and started running toward us.
“Hunter, I missed you!” Sookie scooped up the little boy who was doing his damnedest to tackle her back onto the front steps.
There was a host of excited chatter that was hard to follow since I didn’t speak this particular child’s version of the English language, but it was obvious he loved Sookie a great deal and was beyond thrilled to see her. He snuggled against her and it was easy for me to see what kind of a mother she’d make when the time came. It dawned on me then that when it did, I wanted the child she carried to be mine. My heart skipped a beat and I felt a slight tug in my chest when she kissed the boy’s forehead like it was the most natural thing in the world. I got so lost watching her with Hunter that I didn’t even realize she’d introduced me to the little boy.
“Eric, honey?” Sookie tugged on my hand to get my attention.
I snapped out of my daze and said, “Right, sorry.”
“Eric, this is Hunter. Hunter, can you say hi to Eric?” Sookie looked down at the little face that was buried in the crook of her neck. There was a shake of his head, letting me know he wouldn’t be talking to me just yet. “He’s really nice, sweetie.”
“No.” Hunter’s voice was clear and stern.
Sookie sighed and said, “He’ll come around once he sees that Jason’s your buddy.”
“It’s okay. Little kids either think I’m a monster or something to climb on.” I joked as Sookie stroked the boy’s hair in attempts to calm him.
The blond woman and the man I assumed was her husband, and Hunter’s father, came up to the house carrying a card table and a few casserole dishes. With all of the food being prepared inside you’d think a small army was coming for dinner. From all I could tell there would only be ten of us, but then maybe there were more people coming I wasn’t aware of.
“I’m gonna put you down now, honey, so I can help your Mama.” Sookie pressed another kiss to Hunter’s head before setting him down. He stayed close to Sookie, only cheating glances up at me as they walked toward his mother.
Sookie greeted the woman with a hug and accepted a kiss on the cheek from the man. “Let me help you with that.” Sookie took one of the casserole dishes from the woman.
“No, no, don’t be silly. You’ve got Hunter. Casserole dishes are nothing.” The woman laughed.
“How was the drive over?”
“I miss the old days when Hunter slept the whole way. Now he constantly asking if we’re there yet or how much longer until we get there.”
“He’s just excited to see everyone.”
“Yeah, I suppose. So, is this the hot Viking you were telling me about?” The woman looked at me while nudging Sookie.
Sookie turned bright red and my arched eyebrow didn’t help matters. “Hadley Jane Savoy, you hush your mouth!”
“I’ll take that as a yes.” Hadley stepped out of the way when Sookie reached out to slap her arm. “Since Sookie seems to have forgotten her manners, I’m her cousin, Hadley.”
“Nice to meet you Hadley.” I smiled at her and took the dishes out of her hands before she could argue with me about it.
“Thank you. Good to see one of the two of you is polite.” She winked at me while Sookie scoffed behind her. “And that big bear of a man back there is my husband, Remy.”
Remy and I both nodded to one another out of acknowledgment. Then he was back to shaking his head and rolling his eyes as Sookie and Hadley were back to teasing one another. Hunter let go of Sookie’s leg and ran up to the porch to take his mother’s hand. He looked up at me but looked away when he caught me looking down at him.
“He’s just playing shy.” Hadley explained. “In no time at all he’ll be climbing all over you just like he does with everyone else.”
“Thanks for the warning.” I smiled at her.
“Why don’t I take these? There’s some chairs in the back of the truck that need to be brought in if you don’t mind?”
“Not at all.” I handed her dishes back to her and she went in the house with Hunter following right behind. “I’m Eric, by the way.” I stopped in front of Remy and offered my hand.
“Nice to meet you.” Remy had a firm grip. “I’d apologize for Hadley, but if you’ve already met Jason, well, there’s no point. Those two seem to have been cut from a similar cloth.”
I liked Jason. In fact, I had yet to meet a member of the Stackhouse clan that I didn’t like. Sookie’s Gran had given me what Sookie called “The Eye.” She scrutinized me closely, apparently not satisfied that pulling her grand daughter from a burning car was reason enough for her to like me. She was polite in her scrutiny, asking me questions about college and what lead me to become a teacher. She was tough but she was kind about it. I liked that she had a bit of an edge to her, even if Sookie sat next to her beloved Gran in total silence, completely mortified for me.
I found out a few minutes later that I had passed inspection when Gran had offered me coffee and told me to call her Gran. The breath of relief Sookie had let out was adorable. I knew it mattered to her what her family thought but I hadn’t realized her Gran’s opinion carried so much weight. I was afraid to ask what Gran would have offered me if she decided I wasn’t good enough. She looked like she would have no trouble attempting to hand me my own ass. I think I might have fallen for Sookie’s Gran a little bit because of it.
It was easy for me to see where Sookie got her spunk from. Like her Gran, she didn’t let my size intimidate her. Nor did Gran seem to be all that impressed with my looks. She was judging me solely on whether or not she saw a future for Sookie and me, and whether or not Sookie was happy. In the end, we ended you having a rather lovely conversation and I knew it would be hard to leave her when the time came.
“You met Gran, I take it?” Remy jarred me from my thoughts.
“Yep, first thing this morning.” I nodded as we started setting up the card table and chairs in the living room.
“Did she offer you coffee?” Remy laughed.
“You calling her Gran?”
“Good man.” Remy nodded as he propped up the legs of the table. “She’s tougher than Corbett, and he’s a pretty bad ass guy most of the time. But then you saved his baby girl’s life, so that helps.”
I shrugged, not comfortable with the label of ‘hero’, and said, “It was never really an option not to. I love her.”
Just then Jason emerged from the bathroom looking a little green and fluster. He shook it off quickly and went to say hello to Remy. Hunter came tearing through the room a short time later to climb all over Jason like he was a human jungle gym. I could see the torment in his eyes as he played with the boy. When Crystal came out of the bathroom a short time later she made a beeline for the kitchen before Hunter could attack her like he’d done with every other adult (except me) that he came in contact with.
“Jay can we watch the parade?” Hunter asked with big eyes that I didn’t think any adult in their right mind could say no to.
“Yeah, go on.” Jason looked longingly at the TV screen, knowing the Family Guy marathon was over, at least for the time being. It’s a good show, but not appropriate for pre-schoolers.
Without having to be shown how to change the channels, Hunter went about turning off the DVD player and getting the parade on. “Look, Dad!” He said with excitement as a little arm rose up to point at the flat screen TV. “It’s Blue!” A giant blue bear was floating down 5th Avenue in New York City.
Sookie came into the room and sat on the arm of the couch next to me. Her arm slid around my shoulders and I leaned a little closer to her, wondering if someday it would be our kid so excited about a big blue bear.
My girlfriend plays football. I didn’t know that until I saw the crushed look on her face when a pick-up game was suggested. She’d never mentioned it and I’d never thought to ask. She sat out the game on account of her ribs. They were better but still a little on the tender side, and I was glad to see she was sitting out instead of potentially hurting herself all over again. So the teams ended up being Corbett, Hadley and I versus Jason, Remy and Hunter. Sookie played referee with Gran, Crystal, Michelle and Sookie’s Aunt Linda acting as our cheering section.
Hunter’s team won the game but I got a little prize of my own for my stellar effort when Sookie surprised me in the shower. Her no sex rule had lasted all of twelve hours. I hadn’t even heard her come in. One minute I was alone, soaping up my hair and the next, there was a pair of warm hands squeezing my ass. If it weren’t for the smell of her perfume, I would have freaked out.
“I thought there was no sex in your parents’ house?” I asked over my shoulder.
“A girl needs to bathe.” Sookie removed her hands.
“And you couldn’t wait until I got out, huh?”
“I care about the environment. We’re conserving water.” Sookie grinned up at me.
“Uh huh.” Our showers didn’t conserve anything. Water and energy were used in large quantities.
“I promise to keep my hands to myself.” Sookie batted her eyelashes at me.
“Good. Put them here.” I picked up her hands and put them over her mouth. She rose her eyebrows at me.
I pushed her against the wall and dropped to my knees. I could see her smile behind her hands. I parted her legs, picking one of them up and kissing my way from her knee to her hip. Her leg went over my shoulder but then I started thinking about how she got in even though I locked the door behind me.
“Maybe this isn’t such a good idea. Someone could walk in.”
Sookie moved her hands from her mouth and said, “I locked the sliding bolt thing. Daddy put that on the door when just locking it wasn’t enough to keep Jason out.”
“That’s Jason.” She shrugged and put her hands back on her mouth.
I put her leg back down, suddenly not at all feeling the idea of shower sex. The idea of someone walking in on us wasn’t at all appealing to me. Sookie’s hands left her mouth and she looked at me with confusion.
“I’m starting to see things your way about the whole no sex in your parents house issue.”
She smiled and moved away from the wall, bending to kiss me. Her hands were on my face and she was pulling me back to my feet. We moved so the spray of water hit my back and just stood there kissing for a while. It would have to do until there were fewer people in the house. It was just a little too crowded.
“You know, it’s funny how you could fuck me on an airplane but not in my parents’ shower.” Sookie teased and I got the feeling I wasn’t going to live this one down.
“Yeah, but I didn’t care what any of those people thought. What your family thinks matters and I don’t want to mess it up. I love you too much.” I told her.
“You’re so cheesy.” She rolled her eyes at me.
“You say the sweetest things to me sometimes.” I laughed through my nose.
She picked up a bottle of shampoo and asked, “Lather me?”
Thanksgiving with the Stackhouse clan was a glutton’s dream. Everywhere I looked there was a dish of something on a flat surface. The house was quite full and while they were doing their best to hide it, it was obvious there was tension between Gran and Michelle. Jason warned me that if I was smart, I’d take equal amounts of both kinds of stuffing so as not to tip the scales in anyone’s favor until I absolutely had to. I really couldn’t figure out what the big deal was, but it was clearly important to Gran and Michelle.
It took Jason and Corbett to carry the turkey into the dining room for carving. I didn’t even know turkeys got to be that big. Before anyone was even allowed to think about serving themselves, Gran said grace and everyone had to name something they were thankful for. Yes, it was a bit of a corny tradition but it was nice. It certainly wasn’t like what my family would be doing. Annika’s death changed the SOP in my parents’ house. Holidays became less about enjoying what have and more about mourning what we’d lost.
Looking around at Sookie’s family, I wondered how she was going to fit in with the more somber energy that my parents would provide. The Stackhouses were very full of life and celebration. There was a lot of teasing and goofing around that just wouldn’t be happening when we went to California in a few weeks. In fact, I was a bit sorry we would be missing out on Christmas with her family. I was pretty sure it’d be one hell of a time.
Once everyone had said what they were thankful for, Corbett got to work carving the turkey. Bowls, platters and dishes of all sorts were being passed around the table for everyone to sample things. I noticed two distinct pairs of eyes on me when the stuffing came my way. I was tempted to pass on them both just so I could be absolved from voting but I figured that wouldn’t be allowed. Sookie kicked me under the table when I hesitated to take Michelle’s bowl. She gave me “the eye” the same as Gran had done earlier. God, that was fucking creepy.
In no time we were all stuffed silly. How anyone was going to be able to move from the table, let alone clean up was beyond me. “So, Eric, what did you think of my stuffing?” Gran when right for the jugular.
I looked around the table to see every other pair of eyes was staring down at their plate except for Michelle, who was glaring at me in wait for my response. I weighed my words carefully, not wanting to offend either of them. Stuffing shouldn’t be stressful.
“It was delicious, Gran. I’ve never had it that way.”
“It’s the chestnuts. Gives it a meaty flavor without choking you with spice.” Ouch.
“I didn’t see him choking it down. In fact, I think I saw him go back for more. Twice.” Michelle said pointedly.
Corbett cleared his throat like he thought it might clear the tension. It didn’t work. The two women continued to argue about which dish was better until finally Gran was on her feet and pointing her butter knife at Michelle. Michelle got up and leaned over the table toward Gran.
“Bring it on, old woman!” Michelle challenged. It was at that point that I was sure I was dreaming the whole thing up. No way were those two really going to throw down over stuffing.
Except Sookie got up next to me to pull her mother back while Linda did the same thing on the other side of the table. “Mom, come on, it’s Thanksgiving.” Sookie reminded her mother.
“This old bird has been insulting me for years! I’ve had it!” Michelle pulled out of Sookie’s grasp.
“Old bird? I’ll show you an old bird!” Gran and Michelle lunged for each other and I couldn’t help but move to help Sookie.
“Michelle, come on, this is silly.” I scooped her up easily like she was no bigger than Hunter and moved her away from the table.
Everything in the room just stopped for a second. It was Michelle’s laughter that broke the silence and everyone else soon chimed in. It took me a minute to realize I was still holding Michelle but it was Corbett clearing his throat that alerted me to it. I set the woman down and she hugged me immediately. From the looks on everyone’s faces, I knew they’d been messing with me. I was in a room full of over-sized children. It was wonderful.
“You should see your face!” Gran pointed at me with her butter knife as she dabbed at her tears with her napkin.
I couldn’t help but laugh right along with them. The whole thing really was ridiculous. I was tempted to say, “I knew it!” but I figured that wouldn’t get me very far with that crowd, so I just kept on laughing.
“You’re a good sport. Sookie said you’d laugh.” Michelle patted my arm when she released me.
I turned to Sookie who was grinning like a cat who at the canary. “I survived Johan.” She reminded me when I put on my best scowl and stalked closer to her. I glared down at her for a minute, which was hard to do because I really wanted to smile. Or kiss her. Or both.
“You set me up?”
“Did I not warn you that Thanksgiving with the Stackhouses was an adventure?” Her hands linked with mine.
I bent and kissed the top of her head. “You know what they say about payback, Miss Stackhouse.”
“Bring it on.” She snuggled into my side. “Pie anyone?”
There was a chorus of groans, all except for Hunter who said, “I want pumpkin and apple so I can smash ’em.”