It was the strangest thing to be able to open my eyes again. I’d been telling my body to do it for what felt like years, but my body just wasn’t going along with the program. I heard every word ever spoken to m e the entire time I was lost in my own version of Wonderland. I heard my father bitching and wrongfully accusing Tray of nearly killing me. The accident was no more his fault than Sookie’s. When I opened my eyes, I didn’t have the slightest clue of where I was. Nothing about the room looked familiar to me. It had taken me a while to figure out where the call button was on the bed I was in.
A blonde nurse came running in a few minutes later with a welcoming smile on her pretty face. “Well, hello, there. I’m Halleigh Bellefleur. It’s nice to finally meet you.”
“Amelia Broadway.” I barely croaked. My throat was incredibly dry.
“Try not to talk, hun. I’ll get you some juice.”
“Where am I?” I whispered, since I didn’t have the slightest idea. All I knew was the walls were a hideous shade of pink, and the paintings on the wall made me angry. I hated that country kitschy sort of shit, and the room I was in was full of it.
“You’re at Regency Manor in Shreveport, Louisiana.” Halleigh’s bright smile didn’t dim a bit.
“I need a phone.” I told her.
“I’ll bring one in to you, but first we have to run some tests and see if we can get you off of some of these machines.”
“Fuck that. Bring me a phone.” I was relieved to find I was getting my voice back, even if it was weak.
“Now don’t go upsetting-”
“You listen to me.” I said with narrow eyes. “I’m a grown ass woman, and I didn’t ask to be brought here. I know my rights. I can sign myself out of here in two seconds and there isn’t jack shit any of you can do about it. Now get me a phone, or I’ll get it myself.”
Halleigh looked positively stunned by my outburst. Apparently, most folks who have been unconscious for an extended period of time aren’t quite so demanding. Still, Halleigh disappeared from the room, and came back a few minutes later with a cordless phone.
“You can go now.” I dismissed her. I had exactly two phone calls to make. I dialed the first number from memory, and prayed it was still in working order.
“Hello?” A gruff voice answered, and my eyes squeezed shut.
Sweet Jesus, how I’d missed that voice. “I’m awake.”
There was silence and I was afraid he either hadn’t heard me, or he thought it was a joke. “I’m getting on a plane. I’ll see you tonight.”
“I love you, Tray.” My voice cracked as my tears started.
“I love you, too, Ame. I’ll be there soon.”
“I’ll be waiting.” I continued to hold the phone to my ear long after it went dead. I cried for a few minutes before I dialed the other number I had in mind.
“Copely Carmichael.” My father’s slick, velvety voice answered.
“Tray is coming to get me tonight. I’m going back to Chicago. If you’re smart, you won’t try to stop me. I can’t believe you took me from him. How dare you. Goodbye.” I didn’t wait for a response before I hung up.
Maybe I was being ungrateful for what he’d done, but I knew without even having to ask that my father hadn’t consulted with Tray or Sookie about moving me out of Chicago. Yes, Cope was my father, but he wasn’t really my family. He wasn’t in my life every day. He didn’t see the shit I dealt with, or how important my friends were to me. I had no doubt I would have come out of my fog sooner if Tray had been closer to me. I hated my father with a passion. I never wanted to see him again.
Looks like I’d woken up in more ways than one.
Finding out that Amelia was awake left Sookie in the best mood I’d seen her in since we met. I couldn’t blame her for it, though. If it had been my best friend in a coma for more than a month, I would have been as excited as she was to learn it was over. She’d been hit with a quick wave of guilt after getting off the phone with Amelia’s nurse.
“I thought she was going to die.” Sookie looked absolutely stunned. “I told her goodbye. What if she heard me? What if she thinks I don’t care anymore?” Tears welled in her eyes.
“I don’t think it’s going to matter, Sookie. She’s awake- that’s all that matters now.” I reassured her.
“I have to call Tray.” She grinned.
I left her to make her phone calls to everyone who knew Amelia while I got started on dinner. There were a lot of happy tears shed that evening while Sookie spread the news. Turns out the first person Amelia called was Tray. He was already booking his flight to Shreveport when Sookie called to give him the news. I was happy for him. God knows what I would have done if I had been in his position, and I hadn’t known Sookie for nearly as long as Tray and Amelia had been together.
Getting Sookie off the phone long enough to eat dinner would have been much more difficult if I hadn’t made her favorite meatloaf recipe- how strange is it she even has one?- that consisted of cheese oozing from the center of the loaf. The house smelled phenomenal, though, and Sookie came running when the timer went off on the oven. We dished up our plates and sat down in our usual spots at the table to eat.
“I have something for you. I wanted to wait until Saturday night to give it to you, but I think now might be a better time.” I looked across the table at Sookie, who was chewing a mouthful of her dinner.
“If this is my Christmas present, I don’t want it until Christmas.” Sookie said in a very matter-of-fact tone after swallowing her food.
“It’s a part of it. I would wait to give it to you if I could.” I gave her a small smile.
“Eric, no!” Was she whining? She was the first woman I ever met who whined at the idea of getting a gift from someone.
“Cool your jets. You’ll be excited in a minute.” I got up and went downstairs to my desk in the basement.
Sookie was back to picking at her green beans when I came upstairs with a folder in my hands. “What’s that?”
“Open it.” I handed her the folder.
She sighed and opened the folder, glaring at me like I was forcing her into doing something she really didn’t want to do. She looked down at the contents of the folder and the expression on her face changed almost immediately.
“Airline tickets to Louisiana?”
“I thought we’d make a brief stop in your hometown before going to see my parents.” I shrugged. She dropped the folder, jumped off her chair and launched herself at me. “But if you don’t want to go…”
“Are you crazy?” She wrapped her body around me and kissed me hard. “Thank you!”
“Amelia sure has great timing, doesn’t she?” I kissed her back.
“Always did.” Sookie said quickly before pressing her lips to mine.
Dinner was quickly forgotten about.
The next couple of days were insanely busy for us both. Sookie had a to-do list up on the fridge and I helped her check things off of it one by one. By the time Friday came around, I was beyond ready for my first basketball game of the season. Quentin had done essentially nothing but stare at me with contempt on his face throughout most of the practices he’d attended. Although, it seemed like maybe working with Terry had been a good idea. I could see some change in him already and I was hoping it would only get better with more time.
For some reason, Terry was able to find the right words to get through to the kid. Quentin sat on the bench when the game started, staring at the other players with hunger in his eyes. I knew he was pissed about not being out there, but when he saw that he wasn’t the only one who could play, the hot air in his balloon deflated a little. Still, that didn’t stop him from grumbling every time I walked past him and I moved up and down the sidelines with the plays being made.
At half-time, we were up by seven. We were mid-huddle, going over the plans for the second half when the Poms squad made their way to center court. Sookie had been working with her girls at the far end of the field house, going over last minute changes to their routine. I had the benefit of watching her practice it at home and more than once, she’d been interrupted half way through because I couldn’t keep my hands to myself.
She was dressed the same as her girls in tight black pants a red shirt with a wide neck that hung off her shoulder to reveal a black sports bra underneath. Her hair was hanging down her back in waves and she had painted my old jersey number on her right cheek. My eyes caught hers for just a moment and she winked at me.
“Coach?” More than one player nudged me into the moment before laughing at me.
“Man, you’re worse than us.” One of the guys teased before I got back down to business.
Sookie really was one hell of a distraction but I told myself to save it for later. At the next game I was going to have to remember to stand with my back to the court if I wanted to get anything accomplished. Try as I might, my eyes kept cheating over to where Sookie was standing, doing the moves along with her squad from the sidelines like the hottest stage mom ever.
The second half of the game flew by. Quentin got his chance to play in the game when my starting small forward started to look a little winded. Rather than risk the lead that had already been cut from twelve to five, I sent Quentin in. He was an aggressive player, which was part of what made him so good. The problem was, if he was serious about wanting to play ball in college or on a professional level, he was going to have to switch positions. Small forwards in the NBA were at least six inches taller than Quentin currently was, so barring a major growth spurt, he was going to have to change positions. Moving to shooting guard wouldn’t be so difficult for him if he could just learn to be on a team instead of an island unto himself.
The crowd cheering him on didn’t really help matters. He was the last kid in the world to need a confidence boost, but I was used to dealing with egos much bigger than his. The game ended before I knew it, and we had our first victory of the season with a final score of 98-82. Quentin had no trouble strutting past me to let me know he was positive he was responsible for a good deal of those final points. Never mind the fact that by the time he’d gotten into the game, 54 of those points had already been on the board. I sighed with frustration and followed my team to the locker rooms for the post-game wrap up.
Sookie emerged from the bathroom in a tiny pale pink nightgown that had my eyebrows shooting toward my hairline, to say nothing of other parts of my body that started rising. She had a bottle of baby oil in her hands, and I couldn’t help but smirk at her.
“Got a plan, wily?” My eyebrows wiggled on their own accord.
“I do.” She climbed up onto the bed.
“Want to share with the rest of the class?”
“Take off your shirt.” She winked at me.
I didn’t know what she had planned, but if it involved oil and being naked, I was in. She positioned me so I was laying on my stomach. Not quite what I was hoping for, but when I felt her warm hands on my back a few seconds later, I forgot why I was ever silently complaining. For such a small woman, she was much stronger than I ever would have guessed. Her slight weight was settled on my ass as her fingers worked the muscles of my lower back. I grunted when she got to a particularly tense spot.
“Feels good, huh?” Sookie leaned down to whisper in my ear.
“You have no idea.” I groaned when she reached another knot in my back.
“If you like that, just wait until I get to the front side.” She nibbled on my earlobe.
“Are you trying to relax me, or kill me?” I quipped, making her giggle.
“I haven’t decided yet.” She ground her hips against me. Minx. “So, how’d things go with Quentin after the game ended?”
I sighed, not really wanting to think about my team while Sookie was rubbing all over me like she was. I was having a hard enough time keeping my mind on the gamewhen she wasn’t on top of me. Still, I knew she wasn’t going to give up the topic that easily, and she was just trying to help.
“I really would like to say that he’s getting what Terry’s trying to tell him, but I’m not sure he gets it just yet.”
“Give it time. I’m sure he’ll come around.” Sookie encouraged, her small hands moving up my spine. “For what it’s worth, though, I thought tonight’s game was great.”
“You were one hell of a distraction.” I told her.
“Was I?” She sounded genuinely amused. “Now what could I have possibly done to distract you?”
“You were breathing, for starters.” I teased, and she pinched me.
“You’re worse than the boys you coach.” I was sure she was rolling her eyes behind me.
“That’s what they tell me.” I laughed.
True to her word, Sookie did her best to keep me guessing as to whether she was trying to relax me or kill me, and by the time we fell asleep, it was more like we were passing out from sheer exhaustion. I hadn’t been so anxious for winter break since I was a senior in college. Mostly, I couldn’t wait to have more time alone with Sookie, although that would be fairly limited. I knew my parents were anxious to meet her. Every time I talked to my mother, she would ask if I’d proposed to Sookie yet. I presumed that had more to do with whatever nonsense my big mouth twin was telling her than the things she’d heard from me.
But her constant questioning had me wondering if maybe Sookie hadn’t said something to her in the emails I knew they had been exchanging. Sookie and I had talked about marriage over the Thanksgiving break. I’d met with my lawyer shortly after we returned to make the changes to my ‘estate,’ in the event I met an early demise. The shares of the bar I owned would revert back to Pam. There wasn’t a whole lot of money in the bank, but it would go to Johan.
The harder decision was what to do with the house. I’d wanted to talk to Sookie about it, but she didn’t really seem open to talking about planning for the future just yet. It was difficult enough to bring Sookie flowers without getting the stink eye from her. I couldn’t imagine what she would say if I told her I was leaving her my house, but I was sure it wouldn’t be pretty.
By the time I woke up the next morning, Sookie was already gone. She left me a note on the fridge, telling me she would check in throughout the day, and be home in time to get ready for Pam’s party. The only thing she asked me to do was go to her house and pick up all of the boxes marked for Christmas decorations. I hoped there weren’t too many, since the Corvette wasn’t really meant for hauling boxes. Still, considering all of the prep work she’d been doing for the holidays, I figured it was the least I could do.
I had to go pick up my suit from the cleaners, which just happened to be next door to a barber’s shop. I walked inside with the intention of just trimming my hair. It had been a long time since it had been shorter than shoulder length. The barber told me there was going to be a bit of a weight, since he already had someone in his chair. So, I took a seat and flipped through an older issue of GQ Magazine. Inside there was a story about one of those vampire shows that was all the rage I had yet to get into, or see any real appeal to. Still, one of the actors had hair similar to my own, and it got the wheels turning in my head.