After Sam left, I cornered Jason. “Can I talk to you?”
He still had his grumpy face on. “What is it, Sook?”
I pulled him onto the porch and sat down on the swing. “Jase, you know I love you and I appreciate all you do for me, right?”
His face contorted into a confused expression. “Sookie, why does it sound like you’re going to break up with me?”
I had to laugh, because he was kinda right, but I just swatted his arm. “Shut up, I’m trying to talk to you seriously.”
“Okay, yes, I know all that. What’s going on?”
“Sam asked me out tonight. And I told him I would go. I need to know that you’re okay with that.”
He cocked his head to the side like the RCA dog. “Would it make a difference if I wasn’t?
I considered it for a second. “Yeah, it kind of would. He’s known me for years and he’s your friend. You don’t have a problem with him being interested in me?”
He shrugged his shoulders. “Sook, I’ve seen the way he’s looked at you for a couple of years now. I’ve known for awhile that he’s had a thing for you. But all of a sudden, you’re like this guy-magnet and I don’t know how to handle that. You’re my little sister, for Christ’s sake. I don’t want guys looking at you like they do. I know what they’re thinking when they do.”
“What the hell are you talking about?”
He snorted. “Do I need to list it out for you? I thought you were the smart one. Sam, Rasul, Alcide. Yes, I’ve seen the way his eyes are all over you when he and Tray come over to pick you up. And apparently, I also have to worry about fucking Northman. That guy makes me look like a monk. I don’t like the idea of you hanging out with him.”
I had to figuratively pick my jaw off the floor before I could respond. “Okay, Sam I just learned about. Rasul is over five thousand miles away and no longer in the picture. Alcide, well, we’ve had words and he’s behaving himself now. But I think you might be overreacting about Eric. Look, I go to school with the guy. I know who he hangs out with and what his reputation is better than you do. But from the time I’ve spent with him so far, well, it seems like the reputation is more hype than truth. I’m not saying he hasn’t been a ‘hit it and quit it’ kind of guy before, but he hasn’t tried anything with me so far.” Okay, so I blatantly lied there, but if I ever did want to see more of Eric, telling Jason about our convoluted… er… what ever the fuck was between us, was not going to help. Jason needed to be kept in the dark on that particular subject.
“But it doesn’t change anything. I worry about you and I don’t want you to be taken advantage of. I know you don’t have a lot of experience with guys,” and frowned when I rolled my eyes. “Well, I don’t want to know any more than I do if I’m mistaken. Guys are dogs. We are. It’s a fact. I can trust Sam with you up to a point because, off the stage, he’s shy as hell and won’t push you for anything. The same can’t be said for anyone else I know, especially those guys I listed.”
“Well, Sam’s taking me to his dad’s diner for supper and we’ll decide what we’re going to do later tonight while we eat. I don’t know if I’ll ever be able to see him as more than your friend, though. That fact alone kind of creeps me out.”
He chuckled. “So all I need to do is make friends with every guy in town and you’ll be too weirded out to go out with anyone. Consider it done.”
I had to laugh with him. “Good luck with that, Jase. Sam tells me the whole high school hangs out at his dad’s place during the summer. You can start building the bromances there.”
I smiled at his snort and headed to my room. I wanted to read and relax for awhile before I started getting ready. I hadn’t been exaggerating to Jason. The idea of dating Sam was weird for me. Hanging out was one thing; the whole dating thing was another. I was going to have to lay down some ground rules on this pronto.
Heaven. That was my room on a sweltering summer day. I had the a/c cranked, my stereo blaring, and a pillow over my head to block out any unwanted sunlight. I was looking forward to getting together with my friends tonight. It seemed like longer than it had actually been since I’d seen them. We were a shallow, fickle group, but they were what I had.
I only left my room when I had to take Pam to one of her friend’s houses. She was having a 3-day sleepover and would be out of my hair until the day before football practice started. I reminded myself that I had to start conditioning my body again to be able to handle practice and kicked myself for becoming so lazy over the summer.
Middle of the day heat was not the ideal time to start a run, but since I would have to deal with it in the coming weeks, in full pads no less, I might as well get on the ball. I pulled on my running shorts and some shoes and took off down the road. We lived in a subdivision where all the roads circled around to the main road in and it was impossible to get lost. I’d measured it when I first started running and the full circuit of roads was almost exactly five miles. A perfect distance to get back into shape.
The feel of my feet on the pavement was mind clearing and I was able to not think of anything for about an hour. When I got back home, I walked up and down the street to cool down before I went in to shower. I could already feel the muscles that hadn’t been used in several weeks come alive with an ache. I went inside and started a lukewarm shower. Hot water was best for sore muscles, but running in air the consistency and temperature of bath water made more hot water unappealing.
I stepped gingerly into the water and felt relief instantly as the room temperature water cooled the heat of my body down. I let my mind wander. I needed to get over this irrational need that I had for Sookie. She had made it fairly obvious at the beach party that she didn’t want me like that. But she was in me like an addiction. I wanted to see her, to get my fix. A night out with my crew was just what I needed.
I made myself a ham sandwich as an appetizer, since I knew that we’d be eating at the diner later. Mom pulled in and it was the first time I’d seen her in a few days. She was pulling extra hours because the hospital was cutting staff and the nurses that kept their jobs had to pick up the slack. She looked drawn and exhausted when she sank into her chair at the kitchen table.
I poured her a glass of tea and made her a sandwich like mine without being asked. My dad was a bank manager and mom didn’t have to work. But she already had her nursing degree when they met and she loved what she did. She wasn’t going to give it up to be some housewife. It had led to some pretty big arguments when Pam and I were younger and he had wanted her to stay home with us. She countered that he had known she was going to work when they had married and decided to have kids and she wasn’t giving it up. I admired her drive for not becoming some spoiled society wife and sticking with what she loved, even if it wore her to the bone. My dad was rarely home anymore and only joined us for “family” occasions, like Pam’s theater debut and my games. Occasionally holidays made the cut, too.
I reminded her that Pam was at her friend Jessica’s house until Sunday and she looked relieved at having the house to herself for a little while. I told her that I was going out tonight and didn’t plan on being home until late.
“What’s new about that, Eric?” she asked me in her tired voice.
“I was just letting you know.”
“You act as though I don’t know when you come home, be it at nine in the evening or four in the morning. The alarm system had time stamps, remember?”
“I remember. I was trying to be courteous and give you a heads up.”
“I know. I appreciate it. I don’t even know why I’m bringing it up. I guess I’m just spoiling for a fight and you’re here. I’m sorry. Have fun tonight.”
She took her sandwich and tea into her bedroom and closed the door. I just started after her, confused. Part of me wanted to stay home, make sure she was okay. But the other part of me thought that she wouldn’t be good company and wouldn’t want me around. So I got dressed and ready to go out.
I grabbed some black cargo shorts and a white v-neck t-shirt. I pulled on my black boots to complete the look. I knew what looked good on me and this did it.
I hopped in the Camaro and plugged in my I-pod. I cranked Green Day on my way to the diner. I was bound and determined that I was going to have a good fucking time tonight.
I had started wishing I hadn’t agreed to this date with Sam. It had all kinds of potential to make things awkward between us and I didn’t want that, or to cause any rift with his friendship with Jason. I took my hair down from the braid I had pulled it back into earlier and finger combed through the waves. I looked through my closet and decided on a light cotton sundress. It was a black and gray abstract print and I just loved how it looked. I put in my contacts, added some light makeup and slid on some black heeled sandals. Just because I didn’t want this thing with Sam to go anywhere didn’t mean that I had to look frumpy.
Sam pulled up at seven on the dot in his blue Jeep and came in to say hi to my parents before walking me out and helping me up. Why the hell do I keep picking sundresses when I’m going to have difficulty entering and exiting vehicles modestly? I guess it just doesn’t factor into my dressing decisions. Maybe it should.
We pulled into the parking lot, I saw the cars filling the lot. Sam wasn’t exaggerating the popularity of his dad’s diner. He hopped out and opened the door for me and helped me down. He grasped my hand as we crossed the lot. His hand was hot and sweaty and it took everything I had not to pull away and wipe my hand off.
He looked around when we entered and grabbed a booth by the far wall and a couple of menus. Sam went back in the kitchen to grab his dad to come out and say hi. When Senior (as he was called since Sam was little and refused to answer to “Junior”) came out, he gave me a huge bear hug and asked how I was and how the family was doing. He told us that our meals were on the house and to order whatever we wanted.
Since Sam and I had hung out earlier, our usual wells of conversation were pretty dry. Besides music, movies, and Jason, we didn’t have all that much in common. He was in college, I was in high school. There were four significant years separating us.
I heard hooting and hollering from the pool tables when the door opened and I turned my head to look. I wished I hadn’t. I locked eyes on Eric. His eyes widened in surprise, then narrowed seeing who I was in the booth with. What the fuck was that about? He turned and headed into the pool room and didn’t look back.
A few minutes later, our burgers and fries were delivered. Remembering that, oh yeah, I needed a job, I went back to the order window and asked Senior if he could use any help for the remainder of the summer, then after school and on weekends. He smiled and said he could since one of his waitresses was getting ready to leave for college and the job was mine if I wanted it. I said that I definitely did and we shook on it. I would start training the following week. The joys of having connections.
I rejoined Sam at the table and we ate in an uncomfortable silence. We just didn’t really have anything at all to talk about, and I was pleased to see that he looked as uncomfortable as I felt. We finished our meals and I excused myself outside for a smoke.
When I pulled into the parking lot, I saw all the usual cars there. I smiled and hopped out of the car. I head the whole crew start a riot when I entered and smirked. Some things never change. I took a quick glance around as the door swung closed behind me. Fuck. Me. She was fucking there. I tilted my head to see who was sitting with her and it was that fucker Sam. Shit. She had introduced him as Sam Merlotte, hadn’t she? How had I missed that connection? Maybe it was the massive amount of bare skin that had been on display. “Old family friend” my ass. I refused to waste anymore of my time and went to greet my friends.
Felicia pulled me over to the side and sitting at a table was an incredibly hot redhead that I had never seen before. She was introduced to me as Miranda, her cousin that was visiting for a few weeks. I felt all the old charm fall into place. It was too easy. I didn’t even want her, but it was the game I had to play.
We chatted for a bit and I knew that if I wanted, I could snap my fingers and she’s be in the back seat of my car faster than I could track. She was that obvious and the desperation was, frankly, a turn off. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw a familiar blond head out the door alone.
Aww, was the date not going well? I excused myself and said I was heading out for some fresh air. I wanted to know what the hell was going on with her.
I stepped out and smelled the smoke. She was leaning against the outside of the diner, cigarette in hand, looking at nothing. “You mind if I bum one of those?” I asked her, hoping I wasn’t sneaking up on her.
“Whatever,” she replied, and tossed the pack in my direction with her lighter.
I lit my own and walked over her to hand the pack back to her. “I have to quit come Monday.”
“And I care because…?” she mumbled.
“I always stop when football practice starts. And for some reason, I always start again when basketball season ends. It’s a filthy habit.”
“You say that like I don’t realize it. What do you want?”
“What happened to the friendly girl that danced with me last night?”
“She just went on an incredibly awkward date that possibly ended a friendship. She’s not in the best mood about that. She also saw you hitting on a sleazy redhead in clothes about two sizes too small and she doesn’t really know why, but she’s kind of pissed off about that too.”
I wanted to smile, but I was able to hold it back. “Are you jealous, Sookie?”
She rolled her eyes and flicked her cigarette. “No, Eric, I’m not jealous. But it does reinforce my perception of you. Why try for something of quality when cheap and easy falls into your lap. It’s like… it takes time and patience to make a good cake. You can always go to the store and buy one. It might be decorated a little better and it doesn’t take as much work as baking your own, but it tastes like shit. The homemade one might not look as good, but it tastes a whole lot better. As much as I wanted think better of you, Northman, you go for cheap and easy.”
Fuck. I know she hadn’t meant the words the way they sounded, but all I could think about was how she tasted. As soon as she put out the cigarette, I was in front of her, my arms to either side of her, pinning her against the building. “What if I said I didn’t want cheap and easy? What if I said I was playing the part that was expected of me?” I ducked in and kissed her neck. “What if I said that, for you, I would learn patience and invest the time? I want you. I want you more than I’ve wanted anyone and I don’t know fucking why.” I leaned down and kissed the other side of her neck.
“Everyone I know and care about tells me that I need to stay away from you. That you’re just out to get me because you want me and, unlike Jessica Rabbit in there, I’m not swooning at your slightest touch or sneaky little smirk. It’s the chase. You’re own sister told me as much. As soon as I let you in, you’ve won and it’s done,” she said shrugging her shoulders. “I’m not playing hard to get here, Eric. Games are stupid and pointless. If all you want is the chase, find someone else to play with.”
I don’t know what part of that disturbed me more. The fact that she thought I just wanted to chase her or the fact that people were actually warning her about me. I didn’t know anyone she hung out with and she certainly wasn’t close to any of my friends. “What do you think, Sookie? Forget what you’ve been told by anyone else. What do you think?”
She shrugged again. “I don’t know you well enough to have an opinion. In the, what, two years that we’ve been at the same school, you just noticed me three months ago. And that was because I was stoned and you happened to be the nearest person that I could bum cigarettes off of. Different circumstances, and we wouldn’t even be having this conversation. Or maybe we would. I don’t know. And in that three months, we’ve had maybe two conversations that lasted more than three minutes? How am I supposed to base an opinion on that? I like hanging out with you. You’re fun to be around. But that doesn’t tell me anything about who you are.”
I cupped the back of her head and leaned in to kiss her, trying to put every ounce of desire that I had for her into it. Her arms wrapped around my neck and she was kissing me back. I wrapped my other arm around her back and pulled her close. She responded for a few moments, but then pushed me back.
“Yes, Eric, I already know that you’re an incredible kisser. You’ve had a lot of practice, from what I’ve heard,” she said with a small smile. “But I am here with someone else and just because it’s an awkward and uncomfortable date, it doesn’t mean I want him to walk out here to see me kissing someone else. I’m willing to get to know you, but it’s not something that’s going to happen overnight, Cowboy. So I’ll go in and leave with Sam. You’ll go in and try to fight off the Red Menace… I hope. But you have to put in some effort into it. It can’t be all chance meetings. And you can’t get pissy if I happen to make plans with someone else.”
“So what are we?” I had to ask. God, I never thought I’d be that guy. I’m NOT that guy.
She smiled and leaned in on her tiptoes to give me a quick kiss on the cheek. “I’ll tell you as soon as I know.”