Leap of Faith
Future Take for ARedheadThing’s Birthday
You Say it’s Your Birthday!
“Eric, get the door.”
I heard the door swing open, and the apartment was overrun with the loud chaotic sound of children reconnecting with old friends.
“Kenzie, wanna see our room?”
“Yeah. We got bunk beds. Come on!”
Gabi and Ali were six, and McKenzie was only a year younger. They considered each other cousins and had been looking forward to this weekend for months. It sounded like a small herd of elephants as the three girls ran through the apartment to check out the twins bedroom. We only stayed in Jacksonville with the kids a few times a year, so they were always very excited for the first day or so. Eric was cooing over baby Graham in the living room and Soph was hollering down the stairs at Cal about getting the diaper bag from the car. The only voice I hadn’t heard was Collin’s, but as I wiped my hands on a towel and turned to face the rest of the apartment, I saw him with his dad.
Eric was sitting on the couch holding Cal and Soph’s new son with an awed look on his face. Collin was kneeling on the couch next to Eric, peering down at the swaddled infant.
“Dad, he’s really little.”
“He’s a baby, Col. They all start out like this.”
“Was I that little?”
“Yup. McKenzie and your sisters, too. But look how much you’ve all grown. Graham was even smaller when he was born, but he is going to get big just like all of you.”
“Is he coming with us when we go stay with Granny Betty?”
“He sure is,” Eric smiled. He loved that the kids had all taken to calling Reverend Taylor and his secretary Granny and Grandpa. The only true grandparents they had were Eric’s folks, and they were never around. Gran’s DAG ladies had practically adopted them, but kids could never have too many grandparents in my eyes.
They were so cute. The relationship between Eric and Collin pulled at my heart on a daily basis. They both tried to be so tough, but they were absolutely adorable. Collin was Eric’s mini-me in both looks and mannerisms. He’d almost perfected the eyebrow raise and he was only three and a half.
Eric glanced over and saw me watching and smiled just as Cal and Sophie Anne came in, closing the door behind them. I gave them both big hugs and then took Graham from Eric, who’d gotten up to hug Soph. He and Cal made there way to the living room, with Collin following behind. I sat at the breakfast bar with the baby snuggled in my arms.
“He’s beautiful, Soph.”
“Thanks, Sookie. And thanks for loaning me Eric.”
“Anytime. I wasn’t going to let you do it all by yourself.”
“Cal is still whining that Eric got to be in the delivery room and he was only there online, but he’ll get over it. He just has to have something to complain about.”
I smiled and we sat quietly, both watching the sleeping baby in amazement. Soph had found out she was pregnant after Cal’s last deployment. She’d done really well, going through the entire pregnancy on her own with a toddler at home. I knew Thalia had helped out around the house and had kept McKenzie over night a few times, but for the most part, it had just been Soph. Cal had requested leave to come home for Graham’s birth, but after some problems with the mission they’d been on, he didn’t make it. I’d sent Eric up to Jackson to stay with her for the last two weeks of her pregnancy just in case. No woman should be alone for that if she didn’t have to be. He drove her to her final doctor appointments and then, when they got word that Cal couldn’t get home, he got everything set up with the Marines to have the web-cam in the delivery room.
After a few minutes of girl talk, we went and joined Eric and Cal with Collin in the other room. The kids could play together for hours on end, so the four of us had plenty of time to catch up. Collin was easily entertained, although he frequently had to be reminded that Uncle Cal was not really a horse, while Graham was thrilled to be passed from one adult to the next for snuggling.
It was great to see Cal again. I’d been out to visit Soph and Kenzie several times since he deployed this last time, and I always forgot the way they were both transformed when he was home. Soph breathed easier and Kenzie relaxed because Soph did. As the years went by and I saw the roller coaster that was a Marine wives’ life, I thanked God that Eric had gotten out.
We were in town for Cal’s surprise fortieth birthday party. Cal knew we were in town for his birthday, but he had no idea that there was a party planned. We were sending the kids over to Betty’s house so we could take-over the bar for the night with the guys from their unit and anyone else who wanted to celebrate. It was a Friday, and the usual band would be there, making it seem like any other weekend. Cal would have no idea until they brought out the cake. The bar would still be open to the public, but I doubted too many people would stick around after they saw the drunken debauchery that I was sure the night was going to be full of. In all of the years I’d known Eric, including his time at Tulane, I’d never seen him as drunk as he got when he and Cal were together.
We took the kids to dinner at the beach, they loved to listen to the waves, and we enjoyed breaded fresh fish sandwiches. Afterward, we took the kids over to Betty’s house, leaving her Soph’s van with all of their seats in case she needed it. One of her teenage nieces had come to spend the night and help out with the kids. Soph spent a little extra time giving them a few tips for dealing with Graham if he got cranky, and then we headed back to the bar.
Slowly but surely Eric and Cal’s entire unit trickled in, a mix of the old group and the new, since Eric hadn’t been the only one to leave the unit over the last few years. Having Eric in town made it seem normal for everyone to get together, so Cal wasn’t suspicious at all. For the most part, Eric only made it up to Jacksonville every couple of months, and the guys had been deployed several times since Eric had moved back to Bon Temps, so his presence at the beach when they were in the States was always an excuse to party.
Beer flowed and the night began to turn into everything I had expected. Eric and Cal had done shots at the bar, and Victor had a beer in each hand. Twinings and Jessica were there, Eric had muttered that he couldn’t believe they were still together, but he said that every time we saw them. There were a lot of guys there that I didn’t know, who Soph had to introduce me to. They were retired Marines that the guys had served with, Marines from other units and a few local guys that they knew. There were a few women there, mostly wives and girlfriends, but Soph and I found ourselves hiding out in a booth watching our husbands act like fools.
We’d been there for about an hour when Thalia came out of the office with one of the bartenders who carried a big birthday cake with a werewolf on it. It was chocolate with raspberry filling to make it look bloody. Soph and I couldn’t talk Eric into the red velvet cake like the armadillo cake in Steel Magnolia’s. We joined the guys to stand at a high top table, and Eric nudged Cal on the shoulder. He looked at the cake in confusion as Thalia came to stand in front of him.
“What the fuck?”
A crowd had grown around us and everyone yelled, “Surprise!”
The band struck up Happy Birthday and everyone sang the most obnoxious, off-key version of the song I’d ever heard.
“Holy shit! No way!” He was grinning and cracking up. His eyes were wide as he turned to Eric. “Dude, how did you pull this off?”
“I know the guy who owns this bar,” Eric deadpanned.
“Smart ass.” He reached up to cuff Eric on the head, but Eric ducked out of the way. Cal turned to Soph, who had put her arm around his waist, and leaned down, kissing her. It was blatantly sexual, and I felt a little like I was intruding on a private moment or the set of a porno movie. When he pulled his mouth away from hers, he shook his head. “You’re in so much trouble when we get home.”
She raised an eyebrow. “There isn’t a chance in hell you’re ending this night on your feet, cowboy.”
We all laughed, and I wondered if I was the only one that thought it could have been interpreted several ways. Then again, I was in a roomful of Marines, it was likely that they were thinking darker and dirtier things than I could even imagine.
Someone started chanting, “Speech! Speech! Speech!”
Everyone joined in until Cal was laughing and waved his arms for everyone to quiet down. “Alright. Alright.”
When he paused, someone yelled, “Get some!” from the back of the room and everyone was laughing again.
“Shut it.” He looked around the bar, giving everyone an angry look and then breaking into a smile. “Four score and seven years ago…”
“I was born bare-assed on a full moon…”
“I grew up and became a man when I joined the Marines…”
They guys all yelled, “Get some!”
“Without my wife I’d be drunk in a gutter somewhere…”
“With Thor!” Twinings yelled.
Cal snorted. “Fuck, yeah. Eric would be right there with me if he didn’t have Sookie.”
“Boo!” Soph yelled even though she was standing right next to him.
He put his arm around her and gave her a quick but hard kiss. “But since I have my amazing wife, let’s all get drunk right here!”
The room burst into applause, cat calls and more shouts of, “Get some!” I’d forgotten how annoying that could get.
Sometime during the song or speech, a waitress had brought a huge tray of shots from the bar, and they were being handed out to everyone within reach. I tossed one back, it was strong Irish whiskey that burned, but from the look on Cal’s face he either enjoyed it or was already too drunk to notice. I glanced at Eric, who was now drinking from the bottle. I had the ingredients for Gran’s hangover cure ready for the morning, and it looked like we were going to need it.
Cal cornered me at one point, thanking me for saving Eric. It was a conversation that he and I repeated almost yearly, mostly when he was drunk. He had been more worried about Eric in the years before we reconnected than anyone realized. Sadly, I understood that it meant that Eric had been much more depressed than anyone else imagined, but Cal knew. He knew Eric better than I did during his time in the Marines, but he couldn’t see his role in saving Eric at all. He didn’t recognize that when Eric had wanted to give up it was his connection to Cal and Soph had brought him back every time. Without them, there wouldn’t have been an Eric to save. He wandered away towards the bar, and I watched him down the better part of a beer. I suppose that was the male version of crying.
A little while later, Soph nudged me and angled her head towards the dance floor. Eric and Cal were dancing, sans shirts, in the middle of a large crowd of guys as the band played AC/DC’s You Shook Me All Night Long.
When the song finished, Eric caught me looking at him and I could practically hear his growl across the bar. He practically dragged me to the office and bent me over his desk, lifting my skirt and tucking my underwear in his pocket. It was hot and rough, and I came with him talking dirty in my ear. He would have kept me in there for hours, but someone pounded on the door. Probably one of the guys, like Twinnings or Victor. We went back out to the bar and Cal gave Eric a high five. I groaned at their childish behavior, but on the inside I was glad we’d squeezed in a quickie before things got too ugly. I knew Eric wouldn’t be in any shape for sex later.
As the night wore on, people’s words slurred and the noise in the bar reached a new level. Victor told a never-ending series of stories about missions they had run that I was sure were exaggerated beyond belief. People made out in dark corners. The band rocked out, and people were stacked two or three deep at the bar waiting for drinks. Soph had introduced me to the new wives that I hadn’t met yet, but we’d visited so often in the summers that I knew almost everyone.
Before things started to wind down, I saw Twinings stage dive into the audience, and everyone had their hands up, surfing him over the crowd, practically dropping him twice. Eric stepped onto the stage and I turned around. There was no way I was watching that.
The band played for a while longer and then at last call, the bar had really cleared out. I wasn’t surprised when a few people made their way upstairs to our apartment. They turned on the music and while some people just drank and talked, drinking games broke out and a few guys were playing cards around the table.
We’d been upstairs for a while when Soph grabbed my arm and dragged me towards the bathroom. I was a little afraid she was going to be sick, but she was muttering things like, “They did it again,” and “Can’t believe I didn’t see them going in there.”
When we got close, she slowed down and gave made a shushing motion. The door was wide open and I had to cover my mouth to keep from cracking up laughing at what I saw. Our husbands were stripped to their boxer briefs sitting in the bathtub, passing a bottle of whiskey between them, talking quietly. Soph pulled out her cell phone and took several pictures before clearing her throat.
“What the fuck are you two doing in here? Again?”
“Hey, baby!” Cal was grinning at her, but not even trying to get up.
“What?” Eric muttered, his eyes squinting. “Cal spilled shit on my shirt. Jackass.”
“Where are your pants, baby?” I asked softly.
“What?” He looked down and snapped the waistband of his underwear. “I’m not naked.”
“I didn’t say that. Why did you take your pants off if something got spilled on your shirt?”
“Oh, cuz then he pissed on my pants-leg,” Eric slurred matter of fact.
Soph made an ‘ew’ sound and looked at Cal. “What’s your excuse?”
“He pissed on me after I pissed on him,” he defended himself.
I shook my head at them and looked over at Soph. “Do we need to help them?”
“Hell no. We might get pissed on.” She turned on her heel and went back to the party.
When the last of their friends left, I took Eric and Cal pillows and blankets, but they were both already passed out. I left them on the floor in the bathroom and made my way to our room to sleep comfortably in our bed.
I woke in the morning to find Eric sprawled out face down on his side of the bed. I had no idea what time it was, or what time he’d managed to drag himself out of the bathtub. I rolled over and saw that the sun was streaking through the high window over our dresser. I stretched and made my way to the kitchen to make coffee and a little bit of hangover cure.
When I came back into the bedroom I put my coffee on the bedside table and poked Eric with my foot. “Wake up!” I called loudly.
He rolled over with a groan, throwing his arm over his eyes. “Quiet please,” he whispered.
“Not a chance. Sit up.” I poked him again.
“Don’t be mean,” he mumbled. He moved his wrist and peered over his arm at me. “What time is it? You already made me a drink?”
“It’s a little after nine.”
“Good god! Let me go back to sleep,” he whined.
“Again, not a chance. Sit up.”
He sat up, holding his head with one hand and reaching the other out for what he knew I had for him. I gave him some Ibuprofen, which he quickly put in his mouth, then I handed him the glass of Gran’s cure. It was a mix of V-8 juice, Tabasco, a dollop of honey and a splash of orange juice. I drank it with some beer in it, I think it was the carbonation that helped, but Eric hated it that way.
He took a big drink, and then looked at me like he was exhausted. “Oh no, buddy. Drink up. We’re sending you two fools to get the kids in a little while, so you need to finish that.”
“Why are you being mean to me?”
“Why did you get so drunk you pissed on Cal last night?”
He choked a little on the sip of his drink. “What the fuck are you talking about?”
“Nothing, baby. I’m going to make breakfast. You want sausage or bacon?”
I laughed. Eric loved greasy food on a hangover. He always had. Soph joined me in the kitchen, and we whipped up a big breakfast of fresh fruit, scrambled eggs, sausage, bacon and toast. We cleaned up glasses and other carnage from the night before as we compared notes on how hungover the boys were, and she laughed at my comment about Eric peeing on Cal.
Slowly but surely, our zombie husbands made their way towards the smell of coffee and food. We filled plates, then sat down to breakfast, and Cal thanked all of us again for throwing him a party. We laughed about some of the funny things that had happened the night before, and I waited for Soph to pounce on them. We were making small talk and procrastinating starting our day when she said it.
“So, you pissed on each other last night.”
Eric looked at me as if to say, “You weren’t kidding?” and I shook my head, sadly, no.
“You know the drill, babe,” Cal snorted.
She interrupted and mimicked him, “If there are no pictures, it didn’t happen.” She went over to the counter to grab her laptop, and I saw Cal blanch. “You should know better than that, Calvin. I have video, boys. Watch it and weep.”
“How did you get to be so evil?” Cal asked her, laughing.
“I was trained by the best, baby,” she teased. “Ready to watch?”
“You’re serious?” Eric finally chimed in.
“As a heart attack. If you can’t aim your piss, I don’t know how you aim guns.”
“Well, we don’t shoot when we’re shit faced drunk,” Cal huffed.
“You can say that again.”
I choked a little on my coffee, and Eric barked out a laugh.
“See? Evil.” Cal shook his head at her, but was grinning as well.
We all laughed, and there was a surprising knock at the door. I made Eric go answer it, because I wasn’t letting him milk his hangover. When the door opened a rush of children swarmed his legs, and I could hear a crying baby farther away, probably at the bottom of the stairs.
“Daddy! Graham cries a lot!” Gabi was the first to talk.
“More than Colly ever did!” Ali had to get her two cents in.
“He always cries like that. Where’s my dad?” McKenzie looked around for Cal, who had managed to lie down on the couch.
Betty came to the door with a squalling Graham, who Soph quickly grabbed, but he continued to scream.
Collin came in behind Betty, dragging his overnight bag and Graham’s diaper bag. “Did I cry like that, dad? He’s really loud.”
The girls had made their way to the living room and were climbing on Cal. Eric picked up Collin and gave Betty a smile. “Rough night?”
“I could ask the same,” she teased. “You look a little worse for wear. We were fine til this morning, then all he wanted was his mother and nothing else was going to do.”
Soph cooed over the baby, and he was beginning to settle down. “I think he’s teething.”
“Oh, it’s no problem, but we had the van, so I just figured I’d bring them on home.”
“Thanks so much, Betty,” I said as Ali started poking my leg to get my attention. “Yes, baby?”
“Do I smell sausage?”
“Let me go see if Uncle Cal left you some, my little carnivore.” Ali was just like her father in that sense. We went into the kitchen to check the leftovers. I made her a plate and she ate at the bar, happy as could be. Soph was walking Betty out to the car, and we all called goodbye.
I started to wipe the counter and load the dishwasher, vaguely thinking about how easily our families blended together the same way that ours did with Pam’s. I realized then that it was so true what they said, that family is what you make it.
“Let me help,” Soph said from behind me.
“If you could put the rest of the dishes in here I can put things back in the frig.”
“Sure.” She smiled and went right to work.
I turned to grab something off of the counter and Eric caught my eye. He was sitting in an over stuffed chair with the twins snuggled under each arm asleep. There was no sign of McKenzie, Collin or Cal, so I could assume they were all stretched out on the couch. I smiled at Eric. They looked so cute sitting together. He smiled and mouthed, “I love you” at me over their heads. I blew a kiss back and turned to put some things in the refrigerator.
When I turned back, his eyes were closed, and he was asleep, too. I stood there for a minute, resting my elbows on the counter, watching them. I felt Soph come to stand next to me and after a few seconds she sighed. “What a beautiful picture.”
I just nodded.
“It’s times like this that remind you to count your blessings, right?”
I reached over and squeezed her hand. “Trust me, Soph, I do. Every day.”