Leap of Faith
Chapter 24: I Love this Bar
When Sookie and I came up for air I surprised her by telling her to pack up so we could go to Bon Temps. The purchase of the old bar by the highway had gone through shortly before I got back to the states, and I couldn’t wait to get a look at it.
It was more than seeing the bar though; I wanted to go to Bon Temps because I already thought of the farmhouse as home and I felt a need to spend time there with Sookie. Returning there with her would turn the page and start my new life, and I didn’t want to wait four months for that to happen.
We toured the bar, which she had already seen when she sent some digital pictures to Bobby for me. We looked around talking about the changes that needed to be made. To start with, we had to remodel the interior, upgrade the kitchen and the beer taps, and repave the parking lot. The place had definitely seen better days. It had been closed up for several years, and it was clear that old man Egg’s hadn’t made improvements in the place for many years before that. There were some really cool old bar mirrors that I hoped I could clean and hang behind the bar.
Sookie and I decided to call it the Dog House. It was simple enough that the locals would like it, and had meaning for me. I planned to spread word through the grapevine that all Marines, and especially Devil Dogs, or Recon Marines, were welcome.
While I’d been in Iraq, there had been some major work done on the house. Sookie had remodeled both bathrooms and replaced the water heater, had a new front door installed, updated the kitchen and replaced the windows. When we stayed at the house together after Gran’s funeral, the kitchen had been total shock to Sookie. Gran had always cooked a lot of food, and Sookie couldn’t believe she’d done it with the stove that took forever to heat up and the refrigerator that groaned to keep food cold. She felt awful that she hadn’t realized the things that Gran had ignored or just gotten by with. I loved what she’d done with everything.
She seemed a little nervous as she led me out of the upstairs bathroom, telling me there was one more room she wanted to show me. For a brief second I thought it might be a nursery, but when I saw the rich, wine colored paint on the walls, I knew that wasn’t it, but I didn’t know what it was. She pulled me through the doorway and I was shocked.
Sookie had created a home office for me that was more than I could have imagined. My varsity jacket was hanging on a hook near the corner, and I shook my head laughing when I saw it there. It was one of those things that I had left with Sookie when we broke up, and I seriously doubted I’d ever see it again. I hadn’t thought about that smelly thing in years, but it was great to see it there. I ran my hand down the leather sleeve, thinking about how huge it had looked hanging off of Sookie. I couldn’t believe she had kept it.
I tried to take it all in. There was a picture from our wedding on the desk, and she’d framed some of my certificates and photos from the Marines and hung them on the walls as well. I was drawn to the bookshelf where something caught my eye, and I smiled, picking up the ridiculous fake golden ticket to her senior prom. It had been one of those keepsake things that they gave out when you bought your tickets, like a key chain or champagne flute, before they figured out it wasn’t kosher to give champagne flutes to minors; and I had teased her mercilessly the night of the prom that we wouldn’t get in without our golden ticket.
I turned, and she was still leaning on the door frame, biting her lip. “Sookie, this…this is amazing.” I walked over to her and pulled her into my arms. “You picked my favorite things. Thank you so much.”
She laughed as I ran my nose along her neck. “You found the golden ticket right away. I bet you thought you’d never see that again.”
“You’re right.” I kissed her just below the ear, and nuzzled the taught skin along her collar bone, moving to the other side of her neck. “You know what I want to do someday?”
“I have no idea, but I’m going to guess it involves getting naked,” she teased me as I continued kissing her delicate skin and smoothing my hands over her back, sliding them lower to her ass.
“No, not naked,” I whispered. “But the only thing you’ll have on is my letter jacket.”
“Damn. If we didn’t have plans I’d strip for you right now.”
I started to raise her shirt. “We’re just going to Merlotte’s. I’m not in a hurry.” I rolled her nipples between my fingers and she moaned.
“Wait. Stop.” She grabbed my wrists, trying to pull my hands out from under her shirt. “No really, we need to go.”
I wasn’t giving up easily. I cupped her sex and she arched into my hand. “But I’m hungry for you.” I kissed her hard and heard a whimper.
“Oh God.” She put her hands on my chest and pushed.
She was serious. I pulled back. “What’s the matter?”
“Shit.” She ran her hands through her hair. “Surprise!” She said sarcastically. “Everyone’s at Merlotte’s for a ‘Welcome Home!’ party.”
“Are you kidding?”
“No.” She could have said, ‘Duh.’ the way it came out.
“I guess we should go then.”
“How the hell do you do that?”
“What?” I was already heading to the stairs as her arm stretched out behind me.
“Turn it off like that. I’m melting over here and you just walk away.”
“Melting?” I smirked and walked back to her. Bending my knees to even out our heights, I rocked against her, showing her just how on I still was. “It’s physically impossible for me to turn off around you. I just keep telling myself how much better it will be later, when you’ve walked around wet for me all night.”
“Eric,” she gasped, reaching for my button fly.
“No, Bird. We’ve got to go.” I kissed her sweetly on the nose and stepped away, pulling her behind me.
We walked into Merlotte’s and there was a ‘Welcome Home’ banner behind the bar and red, white, and blue ribbons all over the place. I shook my head, old friends had come out of the woodwork; it was like a high school reunion. I hugged and shook hands with more people than I could count and drank enough beer to float a battleship. We danced, played pool, and my friends begged me to tell stories about my time in Iraq. We reminisced about the ‘glory days’ and I laughed harder than I had in a long time. Eventually, Sam drove us home and I had to lean on him to get into the house.
I woke in the morning, still in my clothes, stretched out on top of the bed in what I had always called Gran’s room, but through the haze of my pounding head, I realized it was our room now. I groaned and felt the bed move next to me and heard Sookie’s slow footsteps on the floor. I had closed my eyes again, it was way too bright. I was hoping that the curtains were open, because if it was this bright every morning it wasn’t going to work for me.
The smell of coffee wafted through the house, and the bed moved as Sookie climbed on top of it. She lifted one of my eyelids and I slapped at her hand as she giggled.
“It’s way too fucking bright in here this morning. We need curtains or something. And you’re too fucking cheerful.”
She laughed really loudly, or maybe the sound was multiplied by my hangover, and I groaned at the pain in my skull. “Baby, it’s eleven o’clock, that’s why it’s so bright in here.”
I sat up, clutching my head. Shit. I hadn’t been this hungover in ages, and I certainly hadn’t slept this late since attending all night parties at Tulane. Then I realized that that’s what we had done the night before. If Sam brought us home, it had been after three o’clock in the morning. “Fuck me.” It was more of a mutter, but she understood.
“Oh, I don’t think you’re ready for that.”
I looked over at her with a shit eating grin on her face. “How are you not feeling as bad as I am?”
“You drank way more than I did last night. I walked in here on my own pal. I would never have driven, but I was nowhere near as drunk as you.”
I was trying to figure out a smart comment, but my brain was not functioning. I felt her hand on mine and realized she was handing me two Ibuprofen. She gave me a glass of water and then looked at me expectantly.
“No.” I knew exactly what she was asking.
“Fine. You’ll be miserable all day. It’s going to be nice out. I think I’ll lie out in the sun.”
Bitch. Teasing me with thoughts of her in that slip of fabric she called a bikini. “Alright. But no egg.”
“The egg’s an important ingredient.”
“I don’t care.”
“You want beer in it?”
I heard her laugh and then she magically produced a glass of her Gran’s hangover cure. It was a disgusting concoction of V-8 juice, Tabasco, a dollop of honey and a splash of orange juice. If you could stomach it, Gran swore it required half a beer and and egg as well.
“What the? How did you know?”
“Seriously, Eric. How many times have we had this exact same conversation? I know you hate it with the egg mixed in, and you only want the beer added if you’re alive enough to make it yourself.”
I felt better after drinking it, but I still lost the majority of the day recovering. Sookie didn’t seem to mind, she enjoyed her sun bathing, and pulled the old hammock out of the shed for me to lie on. After we beat several pounds of dust out of it, I fell asleep swaying in the breeze with the sun on my face. The sun here felt so good, it was like being on a different planet compared to the sun in Iraq.
Over the next couple of days, I talked to contractors, the Liquor Control Board, and the parish building permit clerk to get the ball rolling on the renovations at the Dog House. I managed to accomplish all of my work related things in only a couple hours each day, because although I was excited to get started, I really wanted to spend time with Sookie. She only had a few days off with me, and then I’d be going home, so I wanted to take advantage of every second with her. We stayed up late, talking and watching old movies when we weren’t testing out the new mattress that she’d bought while I was gone.
Twinings had taught me a couple more constellations while I was gone, so we looked at the stars from the bench; it had become our special place to stargaze. I wondered if we’d ever be able to sit on the porch swing together again, and decided that one of the first things I would buy when I moved into the farmhouse for good was a new porch swing, free of any bad juju and old memories.
Sookie made me a gigantic breakfast in bed the last morning we were together, and we stayed there, making love and snacking on cold pancakes and fruit until late afternoon. I had a late flight out of New Orleans, and I dragged ass packing a small bag to take back with me. Sookie had gotten quiet, no doubt feeling the same knot in her stomach about my leaving as I did. She wandered away while I finished grabbing some papers from my new office and after I loaded up the car, I found her curled up on our bed.
She wasn’t crying, but she was curled around my pillow and I knew she was smelling it.
I sat behind her on the bed. “Bird, we need to get going.”
“I know.” She mumbled, then stood, took my hand and followed me to the car.
The drive to the airport was quiet, despite my attempts at small talk. I knew she was having a hard time, and I was pretty depressed myself, but I saw the light at the end of the tunnel. I checked in at the airport and she walked with me as far as she could.
“Are you going to be okay to drive?”
She exhaled loudly. I knew she was trying to hold it together. She nodded her head and looked up at me. When our eyes met, she looked so sad, it was breaking my heart.
“It’s okay, Sookie. I’ll see you in a month. That’s nothing.”
“I know. I just don’t want you to go.” Her voice cracked on the end of the sentence, and she couldn’t hold back her tears.
“I know.” She said more forcefully. “Really, I know. I can’t help it.”
I put my arms around her and sighed, stroking her hair. “You know I don’t want to go.”
“I know. Shit. I keep saying that. I don’t mean to make it any harder on you. I’m holding back, really, cuz there’s this voice in my head begging you not to leave me and I’ve managed to not blurt that out. Oh hell. I said it.”
I smirked at her and she shook her head, laughing sadly.
“I’m not leaving you. That’s not happening, ever again, but I have to go back to Jacksonville right now. You’re going to be busy with work; time is going to fly by. I’ll see you in a few weeks.”
She nodded. “You’re right.”
“I’m going to go through security, and I’m not looking back, I can’t.” I saw fresh tears fill her eyes, as I repeated what she’d told me in Thailand when she got on her plane.
“I understand. I’m going to walk away. I can’t watch you.”
“I love you, Sookie. I’ll be home for good soon.”
“I love you.”
I kissed her one last time, glad that I’d thought to get to the airport early enough for our goodbye.
“Ready?” I repeated.
“You’re so funny. Okay.” We grinned at each other and counted to three, then turned and walked in opposite directions. I lied though, because after a few steps I looked over my shoulder, and I could just barely see her blond hair in a sea of people as she moved farther away from me. I rubbed a hand over my face; it was going to be a long couple of months.
I was a little out of sorts my first few weeks back in Jacksonville. I felt lost, like there was something I needed to be doing, or somewhere I needed to go. I missed Sookie and I wanted to be with her, and for the first time in years, I wasn’t thinking about my next tour, or the next mission. All of the gear I was stowing away wouldn’t need to be repacked and dragged back to the desert ever again.
I spent most of my nights on the phone with Sookie, or with Thalia going over plans for the Spear. Sookie was working long hours and covering on-call shifts for coworkers, which I felt bad about, but it would allow her the time to come visit for one long weekend each month. It didn’t seem like much, but I would take it.
I’d been spending a lot of time with Cal and Soph as well. It was strange thinking that in a few months they wouldn’t be minutes away from me. For the last eight years, I’d rarely been apart from one of them. They had been an important part of my life, I was feeling a little panicky at leaving them, which made Soph laugh for hours.
The only thing that hadn’t changed was the Marine Corps. I went back to my daily routine and it didn’t seem to matter at all that I only had a few months left. The Corps is a well oiled machine and things continuously move forward, regardless of one Marine’s contract ending. It was ironic; after four tours practically back to back, now that I was done, there was no tour in sight for my unit. It wasn’t enough to make me want to stay in another twelve years, but it was kind of funny.
Sookie’s first weekend visit flew by. She got in late on Thursday and over the weekend we spent a lot of time in bed, quite a while in the shower, and a few hours with Cal and Soph for dinner and cards. Before I knew it, I was getting dressed on Monday morning, while she finished in the bathroom so she could drive to the airport. She had stopped talking and I knew she was starting to get depressed about being apart again.
I tied my boots and leaned against the counter next to her. “We’re only going to do this two more times. Then I’ll be in Bon Temps and you’ll get sick of me. You’ll love it when I come up to Jacksonville for business at the Spear so you can have some time to yourself.”
“I don’t believe you.” She tried to pout, but she was laughing.
“I love you. Call me when you start to drive home from the airport?”
I kissed her and headed out, hating that she had to leave.
A little more than a month later, she was coming back, and I had a much better plan for our time. We weren’t running errands, grocery shopping, or anything that would suck up our time. I’d done everything I could before she arrived. She’d worked a half day, then driven to New Orleans to catch a flight and drove the rest of the way in a rental car. I knew she would be exhausted by the time she made it to the apartment. I had the bathtub filled up when she arrived.
I smiled when I heard her coming up the stairs. It was amazing to me that the sound of her coming home made my heart beat faster. I think because I’d been gone, I was still in the honeymoon phase. Just like when we were in Thailand, whenever I thought of her as my wife and she was close by, I had to touch her. Tonight was no different, I had her sitting on the kitchen counter and we were both naked in minutes.
“Who’s the anxious one now?” She teased.
“Do you want me to stop?” She pulled my face tighter against her breast, “I’ll take that as a no.”
She gasped as I ran my hands up the inside of her thighs, spreading her legs and stepping between them. Her hands skimmed down my chest, her fingers outlining my ribs before they moved around to cup my ass. She put one foot on the counter and drew me closer, rubbing herself against my erection. Her skin was warm and the scent of her arousal was intoxicating as we rocked against each other.
I hadn’t meant for this to happen; in the back of my head I thought about the bath water getting cold, then she pulled my hair, drawing me to her mouth for a kiss. The hair pulling was one thing, but when she bit my lip, I was done for.
Reaching between us, I aligned myself and pushed into her slowly. We both sighed, watching her body take me all the way in. I closed my eyes, relishing the feeling for a moment, before I began thrusting into her. Her fingernails dug into my back as she moved her hips in time with mine. We were panting and gasping for breath; unable to get close enough to each other even when I was buried inside her. We moved frantically, crying out incoherently until her body clamped down on me, pulsing around my cock. I slowed, gritting my teeth, making long hard strokes until my body drew tight, and I growled in her ear as I came.
I leaned on her, catching my breath, and finally pulled a bar stool over to perch my ass on, with my arms around her waist and my head against her stomach, while I recovered.
“So. Happy to see me?”
“Shit. Yeah. I ran you a bath.”
“It’s probably cold.” She ran her hands over my shoulders and I shivered.
“We have more hot water.”
“Yeah?” Her hands moved into my hair.
“Yeah. We have fruit and cheese too.” I placed light kisses on her belly.
“Really? What Martha Stewart magazine did I leave here for you to come up with that?”
“The Playboy one.” I half mumbled, joking.
“Oh, nice.” She laughed, making her breasts shake right in front of my face.
“The articles are great.”
“That’s such bullshit.” She grabbed my hands and grinned, looking down at me. “Let me go warm up the bath. Join me with snacks and drinks?”
“That was the original plan.”
She hopped off the counter and began gathering her clothes, then headed towards the bathroom, looking over her shoulder. “Coming?”
I raised an eyebrow. Did she really need to ask? It was going to be a great fucking weekend.