Getting back into work our regular work routine sucked. It had been too easy to forget the rest of the world and just focus on being together. The week after Thanksgiving I had basketball try outs to deal with. My assistant coach was an English teacher and a Vietnam veteran by the name of Terry Bellefleur. He was a nice enough guy, but he really didn’t seem to have that thing a person needed to be a coach. He was good for spiritual leadership and I knew his English class was one of the most popular in school. He taught English IV to the seniors, and there wasn’t a single student who didn’t want to be in Terry’s class. His attitude was one of ordered chaos. He managed to maintain the laid back vibe of a hippy and the control of a soldier. It was weird how he did it, but it worked for him.
I wasn’t the least bit surprised to see Quentin- the kid who’d done nothing but verbally harass me in the past- walk into the gym for try outs. He walked in with a couple of his friends. It looked more like an entourage than anything else. I wasn’t anywhere near impressed with that, although he seemed to think it set him apart from everyone else. I didn’t care how popular he was. I knew he was king of the street courts, but I had yet to see him in a serious environment. Did he bring that same arrogance to the court when he was part of a real team? If he did, that was going to be a serious problem.
I overheard him talking about how this was all just a formality. He thought he was too good to try out with everyone else. Maybe that was the case but I wasn’t about to make any exceptions. If his talent was there, it would speak for himself. He needed to learn when to shut his piehole, since it certainly wasn’t currying him any favor with me.
Terry came to stand next to me in the gym. If he were four inches taller, we would have been shoulder to shoulder. “That Quentin kid is the best chance we have at a winning season.”
“Not if he keeps that up.” I nodded to where Quentin was showboating and acting like a total fool.
“Well, son, here’s where my military trainin’ will be a big help to you.” Terry gave a slight smirk and I decided maybe he would make a better coach than I thought.
“What branch of the service were you in?”
“Army. B Company, 504th military police battalion. Spent a good chunk of my time as a Roadrunner keeping highways safe for travel. Then I got shot and the party ended.” Terry spoke of the whole thing as if it were no big deal.
“Pop was a Marine. He saw some action in Da Nang before his unit was pulled out.”
“Yeah, I bet he did.” Terry shook his head as if he were trying to erase a memory- like an Etch-A-Sketch with a bad drawing on it.
“What’dya say we get this dog and pony show going, huh?” I suggested to keep Terry from slipping into some crazy flashback involving Agent Orange or phantom choppers flying overhead.
Dad always said the only thing that saved him from a life like that was Mom. She was what kept the ghosts away at night. That’s a pretty powerful thing. I never quite understood how that was possibly until I met Sookie. Not that I had a whole lot haunting me, but life just didn’t seem so hard with her next to me. It was nice to have someone to share the load with.
We had about 100 boys show up for try outs, which was much better than I had anticipated. The final roster only allotted for 15 players per squad, and my only concern was the varsity team. We’d have our starters, our B Squad and an alternate just in case someone went down unexpectedly with an injury or someone was sick. We took weights, measurements, wing spans and tested how high they could jump before getting to the basics. We had boys running laps and testing their speed in 50 yard dashes. We tested their basic skills in the game to see what their percentage was on something as simple as free throws, lay ups and how well they handled a basketball.
It was a strange thing to be on the sidelines of it all being the one to do the picking and choosing. I wasn’t used to being the one critiquing other players to spot their potential. I was used to measuring them as opponents to find their weaknesses, but then that came in useful as well. A good player could always spot the littlest flaws in the players he was up against. Knowing that a player would take just a half step in either direction when you moved a certain way could be the difference between scoring and losing at the buzzer. It was important to be able to spot little things like that.
Before I knew it, two hours had passed and it was time to send everyone home. Terry and I had notes to compare but it would have to wait until the next day. It was after six already. I was wiped and wanted to get home to Sookie. I promised Terry I’d email him the notes I’d taken, even though we’d done some talking throughout the whole thing. It was too soon to know for sure who we’d be taking on the team since basic skill was only a portion of what counted.
I was more concerned to see how the guys played. Skill was something that could be learned, but being a team player or a leader took much more time and work, not to mention someone who was willing to learn to take on a bigger role. My gut told me Quentin had potential to be something bigger than a loudmouth but he was going to have to make the effort. Like I told him the first time we met, a good team was more important to me than victories.
By the time I dragged myself into the house, Sookie was just setting the table for dinner. She was dressed in her usual evening attire- a pair of yoga pants and a t-shirt- and her hair hung loosely down her back. She met me at the door with plates in her hands and rose up on her toes to kiss me hello.
“You look you’ve had a rough day.” She rubbed my cheek with her thumb.
“Lots of choices to make.” I sighed as I pulled off my shoes and left them on the mat by the door.
“How did try outs go?” She asked over her shoulder as she started toward the kitchen.
“Not bad. I’m going to have my work cut out for me, though.” I walked into the kitchen and inhaled the smell of whatever it was she was cooking. “What’s for dinner?”
“Well, I figured with the crappy weather yesterday and you having to stay late at work today, I thought a little comfort food was in order.” She grinned as she opened one of the oven doors. “So I made pot roast.”
“Have I told you lately that I love you?” I grinned at her as I made my way to the sink to wash my hands.
“Yes, you have, but feel free to say it again.” She winked at me. “I just need to mash the potatoes and finish up the gravy and we’re all set.”
Dinner was fantastic. As if Sookie wasn’t amazing enough already, she was a wonderful cook. It was nice to meet a woman who was capable of making something more complicated than a box of macaroni and cheese or a frozen pizza. I didn’t have to worry she was going to burn my house down when she told me she was going to cook. We sat down together and talked about our day as we ate.
Sookie’s students had been happy to see her back in the classroom. She’d heard a few horror stories of substitutes with no personality and even less interest in helping the kids actually learn anything. Then again, from all I could gather, Sookie had her own style when it came to teaching. It helped that the girls wanted to be her best friend and the boys wanted to… well, that was never going to happen, but it helped all the same. There was a lot of backtracking she was going to have to do in order to get everything back on-line again, which would mean her students would be flocking to see her in the morning before first period.
“Well, I guess we can get back to our morning shower routine.” I wiggled my eyebrows at her.
“I have missed those showers.” Sookie nodded her agreement.
“Well, how about I wash up these dishes and then we have a little hot tub therapy?” I suggested to her.
“That is a great idea.” Sookie smiled at me.
I was on the phone with Jason, going over the final arrangements for Sookie’s Christmas present when there was a knock on my office door. The team roster had gone up earlier in the day, and as expected, Quentin was pissed.
“Hey, Jay, I gotta run. Keep me posted, will you?”
“Sure thing. Say hi to my sister.”
“Will do.” I hung up and set my phone down on the desk. “What can I do for you, Quentin?”
“You can tell me that I got knocked in the head and forgot how to read, because I know you didn’t put me on the B Squad.” Quentin glared at me like I’d just slapped his mother in the face.
“You have talent, Quentin, no doubt about it. I see a lot of potential in you, but it’s like I told you before-”
“Man, all that team harmony bullsh-”
“Language.” I reminded him.
“You really think they’re gonna let you keep on coaching if your best player is sitting on the bench waiting for Captain Tenderheart to need a breather?”
“I think I was hired because I have a good eye. I know the game. I’ve played it. I was part of a team that was about more than wins and losses. I’m giving you the opportunity to develop your skills beyond ball handling and shooting abilities. Being a leader is one of the things scouts look for, Quentin, and right now you don’t have those skills.”
“I lead in scoring.” Quentin said smugly.
“There’s more to it than what’s in the box scores.” I shrugged. “Here’s the thing, Quentin- it’s my team, regardless of the way it used to be. I put you on the B Squad because it was either that, or you don’t play at all. Whether or not you’re willing to take that role is entirely your choice.”
“You’re making a big mistake, man.” Quentin shook his head.
“Practice starts tomorrow after tenth period. I hope you’ll be there.” I reminded him as he walked out the door.
I had no idea if Quentin was going to be there, and his attitude made it difficult to care. If all he was interested in was being a local celebrity, I didn’t have time for him. I started going over some of the plays Terry and I had been working on, including a defensive strategy that had been a big part of the reason Duke had won the championship my senior year at college. I did a little tweaking in hopes of playing up the strengths of the players on my team. I had a list of things that needed to be worked on, both as a team and as individuals. Terry was going to be working mostly with the B Squad, which was probably a good thing.
For some reason, I got the feeling Quentin would be more receptive of the messages Terry and I were trying to get across if it wasn’t coming out of my mouth. I didn’t know why, but it seemed I rubbed Quentin the wrong way. The bell rang to end seventh period and I grabbed my laptop to take with me down to study hall. Sookie and I had found a way around the school’s firewalls and had taken to using gchat when we got bored.
I got my laptop going but Sookie never appeared in study hall. I kept waiting for her to slip quietly into the room, but that didn’t happen. I tried to keep myself occupied in the sports section of the day’s paper and pretend like it didn’t matter where she was, but I was definitely curious. I started kicking myself for leaving my cell up in my office but I didn’t think I was going to need it.
I didn’t bother waiting for the period to end before heading back to my office. I had a bad feeling something was going on. It wasn’t like Sookie to just not show up. I got back to my office to find I had several missed calls from Sookie, all resulting in messages wondering why I wasn’t picking up my phone. I certainly would have if I’d seen her calling me in the middle of the day, given she was never more than a few hundred yards away from me at any given time.
“Eric, I don’t know where you are, but I got a call from Detective Twinings. Lorena has been arrested. They wanted to see if I could identify her. I’ll be at the police station. Call me when you get this. I love you.” Sookie said in a breathless voice.
Shit. I knew something was wrong. I immediately called her back but the calls went straight to voice mail. I sent her a text to let her know I was on my way. I ran to Andre’s office to tell him I had an emergency and had to go. I was a bit surprised I hadn’t been contacted about this since Sookie had virtually no memory of the crash. While it was true I had been far enough away that I couldn’t give a description of anything more than the car, I was still able to provide more information than Sookie.
“They finally caught the person who hit her?” Andre looked relieved.
“We don’t know for certain it was her, but they’ve been working to gather evidence. This whole thing moves a lot slower than it does on TV.” I said in frustration.
“I take it we don’t have our very own Gil Grissom in this town?”
“More like Barney Fife.” I snickered while Andre chuckled.
“Go on, Eric. I’ll cover your last class. Let me know how it goes.” Andre stood to walk me out of the locker room like I’d lost my way.
I bolted out the side door and ran down the track toward the other end of the school. Sookie’s car was gone. She’d been parked right next to me. I got in the Corvette and had to remind myself not to speed or I’d end up fishtailing all over Rose Street. The last thing we needed was for me to end up in the hospital because I wrapped my baby around a light pole.
Thankfully, the police station was only two blocks away from the school and not on the other side of the train tracks at the Franklin Street stop. I parked my car next to Sookie’s and then ran into the building. Ice and slush flew under my feet as I pounded the pavement. I wasn’t anywhere near winded when I walked into the vestibule of the department. There was a small sitting area and the dispatch center was to my left. What I assumed to be a bulletproof window kept me separated from the officers inside.
“Can I help you?” A gruff voice asked.
“Yes, I’m here to see Detective Twinings.”
“You have an appointment?”
“Uh, no, no, I don’t. He called my girlfriend in to see if she could make an I.D. on the person who nearly killed her.”
“Oh yeah. Stackhouse, right?” Gruff looked bored out of his skull. I nodded while he looked down at a bank of monitors. “Wait here.”
I paced back and forth while the officer went through a door in the back. I checked my phone to make sure Sookie hadn’t called or texted me back while I was on my way over, but there was nothing. I only paced for a few minutes before the door at the end of the little waiting room opened. Sookie was standing there looking shaken and a little on the pale side.
“Sookie, what happened?” I looked from her to Detective Twinings who was standing behind her.
“If we find any other information, Sookie, I promise to be in touch.” Detective Twinings patted Sookie’s shoulder.
“Thanks.” Her eyes were a little vacant, which didn’t help my nerves to settle.
“Sookie, what’s going on?” I stepped closer to her, prepared to grab her shoulders.
“Can you just take me home?” She wrapped her arms around herself.
She was wearing her heaviest parka and I knew she was wearing warm clothing underneath it, yet it seemed like she was freezing. I tucked her close to my chest and walked with her out to the car. I got her settled in the front seat before going around to the driver’s side. If I had to, I’d have Pam swing by later so we could come back for Sookie’s car since Sookie clearly was in no condition to drive.
The drive home took less than five minutes. Sookie moved like a zombie from the car to the front door. Jeter pounced the second we walked in but Sookie ignored him, which was something she never did. Even when she came home from the hospital all bruised up, she’d stopped to pat and scratch the dog’s head. Not that day. That day Sookie shrugged out of her coat and kicked off her boots before collapsing on the couch in a heap.
“You want to tell me what’s going on?” I asked gently.
“I had to do a photo I.D.” Sookie pulled her knees up to her chest.
“I thought they brought Lorena in?” I sat down beside Sookie on the couch.
“I thought so, too.” Her eyes filled with tears and she immediately brushed them away when they spilled over. “I didn’t think anything of it when I heard Bill wasn’t in today. I figured it was just some bug going around. I didn’t know.”
“Didn’t know what?” I reached for her hand and squeezed it.
“Lorena’s dead.” Sookie was positively haunted by what she was saying, and I couldn’t blame her. I was shocked myself. “She drowned the baby in the tub…” She had to pause to wipe away more tears. “She drowned the baby and then she hung herself.”
I didn’t know what to think of that. “That’s… that’s horrible.”
“She left a note but she didn’t mention the accident in it, so if it was her, we’re never going to know. What I do know is that she never gave up on the idea that I was sleeping with her husband. She killed the baby to spite him for hurting her.” Sookie turned her face toward mine with a mixture of anger and sadness in her eyes. “She killed that baby because of me.”
“No.” I said forcefully and pulled her closer to me. “Sookie, there was probably a lot going on in that marriage that we’ll never know about. Obviously she had problems that went much deeper than anyone realized if she could kill herself, much less her own child. What happened isn’t your fault.”
“I know that.” Sookie sighed and snuggled against me. “I know this isn’t my fault but it doesn’t change that it happened because of me.”
“So what are the police going to do about the accident?” I kissed the top of her head.
“They’re going to keep investigating to see if they can find anything to link Lorena to it beyond a reasonable doubt. Obviously they can’t charge her with a crime, but it would be nice to know who was responsible.”
I wrapped an arm around her, holding her close to me. My money was still on Bill. If it weren’t for him, Lorena would have had no reason to go after Sookie in the first place. The two women had never even met. The only other link between them was Quinn, and he had no reason to want Sookie dead. I don’t think the jilted lover theory held up where Quinn was concerned, although I suppose Lorena’s murder/suicide ordeal proved anything was possible. What a mess.
“The funeral is in two days.” Sookie spoke quietly. “I don’t know if it’s appropriate for me to show up or not. It seems tacky considering the circumstances. If Lorena thought I was sleeping with her husband, she probably told that to anyone who would listen. Showing up is probably a bad idea.”
“You’re probably right about that.” I twirled some of her hair around my fingers.
“I just feel so bad for that baby. He didn’t have anything to do with any of this. Why did she have to kill the baby?” Sookie started crying again and I’d never hated Bill Compton more.
His lies had not only hurt his wife so much she felt like she was left with no other choice but take her life and the life of their child, but his lies had also nearly killed three people I cared about. So far, he had yet to apologize to Sookie at all for what happened to her. He didn’t seem to give a rat’s ass that his lies may have gotten her killed. And to think there was a time when he thought he wanted to date her?
Once Sookie stopped crying, she pulled away from me. “I’m going to make some tea. Do you want some?”
“No, thanks. I’m gonna give Pam a call and see if she’ll come with me to go get your car.”
“No, you don’t have to do that. I can go with you to get it later.”
“Don’t be ridiculous. You stay here. Have some tea and maybe go for a swim in the tub downstairs. I have to run up to the school to get my laptop anyway.” I kissed the top of Sookie’s head but when I started to pull away she pulled me down to give her a real kiss.
“Thank you for coming for me.”
“I’m just sorry I didn’t get there sooner.”
“Nothing you could have done to change the outcome.” She wrapped her arms around me, hugging me tightly to her.
I really didn’t want to leave Sookie alone in the house. It’s not like I was worried she would hurt herself, or anything like that. I just didn’t want her to be alone.
“How about I make you your tea while you take a bath? I’ll bring it downstairs. We can figure out the car stuff later.” I suggested.
I felt Sookie smile against my chest. “There’s only one thing wrong with that plan.”
“You should be in the tub with me.” She squeezed me a little tighter.
“I think that can be arranged.” I kissed the top of her head once more before leading her into the kitchen.