Leap of Faith
Chapter 11: Chicken Fried
I squatted next to the bed and ran a hand over Sookie’s hair. She blinked a couple of times, smiling groggily at me.
“Good morning, Bird.”
“Mmm hm,” she mumbled.
“I’m going to the gym in Monroe. Coffee’s ready.”
“Good lord. Come back to bed.”
“Tempting. I’m going to work out and then if it’s okay with you, I’ll bring my stuff over here.”
“Are we shacking up?”
“Seems like a good idea.” The clock in my head was counting down our time together. I wanted to spend every moment with her that I could.
“It does sound kind of nice.”
Sitting up, she swung her legs over the side of the bed and yawned. I stood and pulled her up with me, wrapping her in my arms. She nuzzled into my chest with her arms around my back.
“Why don’t you just relax today? Since you don’t really need to sort through Gran’s things right away now, you should just take some time to yourself. We’ll talk to Pam later and find out what Miss Bodehouse had to say.”
“That’s a pretty good idea actually.”
I led her by the hand to the kitchen and grinned as she poured a very large cup of coffee. When she finished her first sip I leaned over and gave her a kiss. “I’ll be back in a few hours.”
On the drive to Monroe, I flipped open my phone and called Cal. I wanted to find out if he had heard anything more about our deployment. He was on base trying to pick up some information, but hadn’t heard anything new. The night before we’d spent our time talking about Twinings and our change in schedule, so I caught him up on all that Sookie and I had learned in the last few days. I told him about the secrets both of our families had kept from us and how I was going to do everything I could to make things work this time.
He got quiet at one point and then cleared his throat. “You know I’ll understand if you don’t re-up after this tour.”
The deployment coming up was the fourth and final tour in our gentleman’s agreement. Cal and Sophie had decided that he would stay the course with the Marines and retire after twenty years. I had hinted that I would probably retire as well, but they both knew it was because I felt there wasn’t anywhere else for me to go.
“Thanks, Cal. I think I’m done after this tour. Sookie inherited her Gran’s place. I can actually come home and start my life with her. I feel like I’ve wasted so much damn time. Another twelve years is too long to wait.”
“I understand. Soph does too,” he said, and I knew he meant it. The two of them had known what was missing in my life long before I did.
Cal exhaled loudly and continued, “If that’s the case, you’ve got some shit to take care of before we leave. I mean, shit, you know what I mean, man.”
“I know. I’ve already thought about it.”
“Well, do more than think about it jackass. Soph is going to kill you if you fuck this up.”
“I know, Dad,” I said as I pulled into a parking spot.
“Whatever, dick. When do you think you’ll get here next week?”
“Twining’s party is Wednesday right? I figure we’ll come in on Tuesday. Sookie’s excited to meet you and Soph in person.”
After he promised to let me know if he heard anymore about our timeline for departure, we said our goodbyes.
I sighed. It was just like him to bring that shit up; like I wasn’t already thinking about it. I didn’t want to be negative about the upcoming trip to whatever shithole place the military decided I should go fight in, but I’d seen enough to know that nothing in life is guaranteed. Girlfriends, or even fiancés, of servicemen don’t have any rights. They aren’t given any updates about their men and they aren’t given information if they ask for it.
As it stood now, if something happened to me, Pam would receive the notification. Not that I wanted anyone to show up on Sookie’s doorstep with bad news. I didn’t want that to happen period. In order for Sookie to get any news about me or what was going on through official channels, she had to be my immediate family. No matter how great things had been over the last several days, I wasn’t quite sure she was ready for what needed to happen.
Heading into the gym, I signed up for a guest pass and struck up a conversation with the personal trainer at the desk about his Semper Fidelis tattoo. He gave me a discount based on our Marine brotherhood, and I got started on the treadmill. Listening to my iPod on shuffle, I went through the full circuit of weight machines, pushing myself a little harder than usual because I hadn’t had a good workout in days.
My mind wandered as I exercised, jumping from topic to topic. If Sookie and I were going to be back in North Carolina on Tuesday, we would need to decide if we were leaving on Sunday or Monday. It was a little over sixteen hours in the car, so I’d let Sookie decide if she wanted to drive straight through. Wiping the sweat from my chest, I moved to the next machine to do some leg lifts. I realized that it was Wednesday, which meant it was chicken fried steak night at Merlotte’s and it sounded like a great idea for dinner. When we got home from there, I wanted to sit on the porch and look at the stars with Sookie.
I thought about what it would be like taking Sookie to North Carolina. I wanted to go to my favorite beach near Wilmington. We would spend the day at the beach enjoying the sun and playing in the water. Then we would eat dinner listening to the waves and end the evening sitting in the sand watching the sunset. Sookie would want to get to know Cal; she would feel better knowing someone that I was stationed with. I really wanted her to get to meet Sophie Ann, because Sookie was going to need someone to yell at and vent to when we lost contact for weeks at a time. But mostly, I wondered how the hell I was going to get her to agree to my plan.
I was a sweaty mess by the time I was done. Nodding at the trainer on my way out the door, I slid into the car to head back to Aunt O’s. I cranked Metallica on the stereo for the drive home, nothing like loud music to put a stop to emotional thought diarrhea. Pam wouldn’t be surprised when I told her that I was staying at Gran’s. We had talked quite a bit during her shopping spree and she knew that I wanted to spend as much time with Sookie as I could. Loading my things into my rucksack, I grabbed my garment bag out of the closet and headed out.
Driving around to the back of the house I saw Sookie stretched out on a lounge chair in a very small black bikini. She looked incredible with those little triangles barely covering her breasts. I didn’t even want to get out of the car to hear her start laughing at me. There was no way my gym shorts were going to hide my hard on. Fuck. I felt like a teenager again. I’m a walking hormone around her. Watching her for a few seconds, I tried to pull my shit together. Fuck it. I climbed out of the car and walked towards her. She had sunglasses on and must have had her eyes closed, because she didn’t say a word or even arch an eyebrow at my obvious arousal. Hitching up my shorts, I squatted next to her, drinking in the view.
She lifted her sunglasses and winked. Looking me up and down, she barked out a laugh at my straining shorts. “Happy to see me?”
Leaning close, I ran my nose along her chin. “I am,” I said before thoroughly kissing her.
“Mmmm,” she giggled. “You’re happy to see me and smelly too.”
I kissed her again, sucking on her lower lip as I pulled her up off the chair. “I need a shower. Want to help me wash the hard to reach spots?”
“I think I might enjoy helping you.”
“Oh, I can guarantee that.”
Picking her up, I tossed her over my shoulder and carried her to the bathroom. There were two bathrooms in Gran’s house, but only one shower. I would have loved to have spent some time with her in that old claw foot tub, but that was for another time. At that moment, I wanted to be pressed up against her in the shower, watching the water cascade down her body.
Turning the water on to warm up, I faced her and smiled. She was leaning against the bathroom door watching me. I beckoned to her with my fingers and she slowly came to stand in front of me.
“You’re wearing too many clothes,” I breathed.
Leaning around her, brushing my chest against her shoulder, I reached behind her to untie the strings of her bikini top. My eyes met hers as I slowly pulled the tie on one side of her bottoms and then the other. Her breath caught when my fingers grazed the sides of her breasts as I brought my hands up to each side of her face. My lips slanted over hers and I gave her a hungry kiss.
She kissed me back, running her hands over my shoulders, down my back and into my waistband. Pushing my shorts down as far as she could reach without breaking the kiss, she caressed my thighs and moved her hands up to my ass. I groaned, pulling away from the kiss and kicked out of my shorts and shoes. Peeling my socks off I watched Sookie get into the shower. I shook my head muttering a little prayer of thanks for this amazing woman and stepped in behind her.
She was standing with her back to the spray getting her hair wet when I joined her. We used to have this down to a science, a little shower ballet if you will, but that was seven years ago. I moved in front of her, my hands skimming along her sides, and I bent to kiss her breasts as stray sprays of water hit my face. She moaned as her hands abandoned her own hair twisting into mine. I would have liked nothing better than to back her up against the shower wall and pound into her, but I wanted to make this last, to savor every moment.
Forcing myself upright, I gently turned her around and lathered her hair with shampoo. She moaned as I scrubbed her scalp. After washing her hair I massaged the conditioner in and turned her around for a kiss before slowly before rinsing it out. She picked up the shampoo and I leaned back so she could reach me. I rinsed my hair and shook my head like a dog, spraying water over both us. Laughing, she kissed me, running her hand down my thigh brushing my erection while she looked at me with hooded eyes. So fucking hot.
I had to keep reminding myself that I wanted to take things slow. Pouring her bath gel into my hands, I created a lather that I caressed down her back and arms before stretching down to soap her legs. I took my time, rubbing and massaging. Her head tipped back and she was breathing heavy. I gave up pretending to wash her, dropping to my knees and burying my face in her center. She gasped as I pushed her against the back wall of the shower and then pulled my hair, pressing my face into her flesh. There was nothing like the taste of her. Kissing her mouth was heaven, but this, this was ecstasy.
Taking my time, I did everything I knew she loved, circling her clit, flicking it back and forth and then fucking her with my tongue. She was practically pulling clumps of my hair out when she kicked her heel against the wall. It was a Sookie twitch, and it was fucking adorable, it meant with just one more stroke, thrust, or whatever, she would lose her mind. Gripping her hips to hold her in place, I gave her a long lick ending in a thrust of my tongue and her body went taught, then I was rewarded with another rush of her delicious essence.
“God, you’re amazing,” she muttered as the tremors began to subside.
Grinning, I slid up her body. Cupping her sex with my hand, I stroked her with my fingers as I kissed her collarbone. I licked along her neck and nibbled her chin as I made my way to her lips. I slid into her with a groan, as her wet heat sheathed my cock, and she sucked my tongue into her mouth. I advanced slowly, touching every nerve, making her whimper and wrap her legs around my waist. Changing angles, I found the spot that would send her back over the edge and stroked slow and true. Her muscles clamped down, pulling me in, and it brought me to the edge. My movements became frenzied as she cried out, her orgasm drawing mine from the base of my spine. With a shout I pushed into her as far as humanly possible and found release.
We were breathing heavy, our foreheads together, as we paused to come down from a lover’s high. My ass was freezing and Sookie’s nipples were hard against my chest, we laughed because we both knew it wasn’t from arousal, but because it was suddenly so cold in the shower.
I ran my hands over her goose bumps and she giggled. “Get me towel you big oaf! I’m cold!”
Eric wrapped me in a towel and rubbed another one over my hair. I watched him drying off, lazily wrapping a towel around his waist. Glancing up, he caught me looking, and I felt myself blush. He chuckled and wandered into the bedroom where he dug through his huge bag to find his clothes. I sat on the bed and started brushing though my hair. Turning to face me, he winked, dropped the towel, and made a very slow and sexy show of getting dressed.
He buttoned his pants as he came over to the bed, then sat behind me and grabbed the brush taking over the job of untangling my hair. I couldn’t resist making some happy noises as the bristles massaged my scalp. Casually, he worked in sections while I put lotion on my arms and legs. It was a familiar routine, although we hadn’t done it in years.
We’d had an interesting couple of days. Burying Gran, reconnecting with each other, and rushing to Pam’s side at the hospital. I had inherited Gran’s house, basically decided that I would be moving back to Bon Temps, and had copious amounts of hot sex with Eric. I hadn’t had sex this much since I first moved to New Orleans to start school with him. I wasn’t complaining, that’s for sure, and I wasn’t going to turn him down, but I meant it when I said that I didn’t want to spend all of our time together in bed. It was ridiculous, but I already knew that I could relive the sex part of our relationship by myself when he was gone, hell; I’d done it for years. I wanted to remember more times like this, when his guard was down and he was doing something sweet for me, or when we talked about books and movies, quoting our favorite parts and laughing until our bellies hurt. I hoped we would have times like last night, when we cooked together, cuddled on the couch watching movies, and ultimately woke up tangled together in the morning. These were the things that I needed to savor and be able to remember when I was missing him.
Finishing with my hair, he helped me up and searched in his bag again for a second before going back into the bathroom with some of his toiletries. Pulling on my clothes I headed for the kitchen to make lunch out of the leftovers that were still bursting out of the fridge. He came to join me at the table and we filled out plates. While we ate he asked if I wanted to go to Merlotte’s for dinner, at first I hesitated, because I had been thinking of making another one of his favorites, then I remembered that it was Wednesday so I agreed we should go. There were other nights for me to cook, but this was his only chance to get the chicken fried steak special at the bar and I knew how much he loved it.
Pam called as we were cleaning up the kitchen. Miss Jane Bodehouse was thrilled that I was interested in working with the Department of Human Services in our Parish. She told Pam that she had always hoped that someone she knew would want to take over for her. I think Miss Jane was afraid that her replacement wouldn’t care for the families the way she had. It was touching that she thought I was worthy of filling her shoes. Pam said I needed to get her a copy of my resume, which made me laugh, because it was in desperate need of being updated, and Miss Jane would talk to her supervisor about me. Apparently, her boss had been trying to talk her into retiring for years and was willing to let Miss Jane choose her replacement if it would help convince her to begin taking time for herself and her grandchildren.
Pam said it was no rush, but I should definitely call Miss Jane before Eric and I left for North Carolina. I couldn’t believe how easily things were coming together. I had a house, most likely a job, and, God willing, Eric when his tour was finished.
We spent the afternoon playing another round of twenty questions. It was sort of a best and worst recap of the past seven years for each of us. Most embarrassing moments, which Eric chose to pass on, saying nothing embarrasses him. I’m pretty sure calling someone the wrong name when they proposed to you couldn’t be topped, but I did tell him about how a regular customer at Amelia’s restaurant always made a big out of deal telling me, and everyone around us, that I look just like an actress on some HBO series. That was always embarrassing. We covered favorite movies, songs, concerts we had been to and trips we’d taken.
Then he asked me what my best day had been, so I told him about the time that three siblings I worked with were adopted into the same family. The day their adoption became final was my best day in the last seven years. The goal of Foster Care is reuniting a family, but sometimes just isn’t an option and that was the case for these kids. They had moved from home to home over a two year period and didn’t seem like there were any Foster Families that were a good fit. When they moved the last time I didn’t want to get my hopes up, but I thought that this family might be a perfect fit. Everything came together to create this new family in a strange harmony that starts to seem impossible after a few years in the Foster Care world, and I would never forget it.
I used my next question asking about his best day and had to call foul when he tried to say that it was today. He thought for a few minutes and then said it was the last day he spent with his Aunt. He had been in Bon Temps while on leave and he spent the day driving Aunt O. around town. She had him drive her to the library, the post office and the grocery store and it took hours. Each stop took much longer than he expected, because Aunt O. made conversation with every person she saw. He had been totally frustrated by the end of the day, but when they finally got home, she told him how much she loved him and that she couldn’t have been more proud of him. She died two months later when he was somewhere in the desert, cut off from reality, and he didn’t find out she was gone for over a week. I had forgotten that he missed her funeral. I didn’t come home for it; I wouldn’t have been able to handle it at the time. He wouldn’t let me be sad about it today, reminding me that his best day was with her.
The afternoon wore on and we decided to change clothes and head over to Merlotte’s. Walking into the bar we were greeted by a waitress that was the younger sister of someone I had graduated with. Sitting opposite each other in a corner booth, Eric ordered us sweet teas and the Kitchen Sink. It was a handful of each of the fried appetizer items on the menu all thrown together to make up a giant basket. It was an old tradition of ours. We figured if we were eating chicken fried steak, we might as well go all the way. We each had different favorites in the basket, but we always fought over who got the last deep fried dill pickle.
Continuing our conversation from earlier, we compared what a typical day was for each of us. I made him give me two versions, one for a day when he was in North Carolina and another for his time in the Middle East. I wanted to be able to imagine what he was doing while he was away. I mean, I knew that not all of his days were the same and that there would be days that he would be in danger, but I didn’t want to think about that.
When it was my turn, I told him about my first stop every morning; a coffee shop around the corner from my apartment. It was run by some old hippies. There was a continuous loop of the Grateful Dead on the sound system and some curious smells came from the back room on occasion, but they made coffee that was second only to Café de Monde in New Orleans. Eric was laughing at my description of the open mic poetry night when Jason and Hoyt showed up and asked to join us. I moved over to sit with Eric and he put his arm around me. I fit perfectly under his arm; it made me feel safe and home.
The evening flew by full of food, drinks, laughter and reminiscing. Eric raved about his chicken fried steak, telling the waitress it was the best he’d had in at least a year. Sam had joined us for a while, bringing a round of beers and pulling up a chair to join the conversation. Hoyt brought up the time that the Bon Temps football team went to the State finals and between the four men I got a play by play of the final minutes of the victory. It was comfortable and natural. I had almost forgotten what it was like to be a part of a group like this, with such a shared history. Much later, Eric caught me yawning, so he paid our tab and we headed home.
He parked in front of the house, which was odd, and led me up the stairs to the porch. Grabbing my keys he unlocked the door, signaled for me to wait, and stepped into the house. I didn’t know what he was doing, but I waited, albeit impatiently because I was tired. He came back out carrying an afghan and grabbed my hand pulling me towards, oh shit, the porch swing. My feet felt like lead and my stomach turned sour. He tugged at my hand, clearly not seeing the horror on my face. I hadn’t sat on that fucking porch swing since he left.
Turning to see why I wasn’t following, he muttered something under his breath, but I didn’t hear him. I couldn’t believe I was still such a wreck over the damn porch swing. If I could sit there with anyone it would be him, but I’d have to think about it, prepare myself I guess, which sounded completely mental, even to me. I felt his hand on my cheek and leaned into it, trying to regain my composure.
“I just want to look at the stars with you,” he said quietly. “Where can we sit?”
Focusing on his eyes and not the emotional baggage picture show playing over his shoulder, I whispered, “Anywhere else.”