“Mom, we’ve been driving for the last few hours. Can you maybe give us ten minutes to settle before you come barging in here?!”
Claudine glanced around Eric’s body and shot an apologetic glance my way. “Oh, I’m sorry, honey. I was just so excited to see you guys!”
I could practically feel Eric rolling his eyes as he sighed. “Mom, you saw us like a week ago.”
Zoe giggled in my arms and wiggled to be put down. Without hesitation, she darted toward the doorway and leaped into Claudine’s arms. “Hey, Baby Girl!” Claudine glanced my way again and grinned. “Is it alright if I take her to the house? Then you guys can get settled for awhile. Sound good?”
I nodded, extremely grateful to my boyfriend’s mom. Seriously, I love my daughter, but sometimes I need a break.
“We’ll come up for dinner, okay?” Eric leaned over to plant identical kisses on Zoe and Claudine’s foreheads.
“Alright.” Claudine turned, her blonde hair bouncing behind her as she jostled Zoe playfully. “I think Alex is in the house and he brought you a present.”
Eric shut the door gently behind them and turned to face me as he leaned back against the wood.
“I’m sorry about that. Damn I feel like I’m always apologizing for my insane family.”
I raised an eyebrow as I sauntered forward and wrapped my arms around his waist. His own followed my lead and wrapped themselves around me.
“Eric, we just came back from my hometown where we were repeatedly harassed, I was actually assaulted and you got to see exactly how people there treat us. An insane family where the biggest problem is too much love…yeah I’m not really gonna be complaining about that.”
His chest vibrated as he chuckled. “Point taken.”
We stood in silence for a few moments and our breathing slowed as we sunk into a moment of pure contentment.
x . x . x . x . x
I could barely hear the soft curse falling from Alex’s mouth over the sound of my idiot boyfriend laughing. Zoe’s giggles and the click of Claudine’s camera joined the fracas as Eric collapsed to the floor.
“Oh, come on Eric. It’s not that funny!”
Coleman grinned from the other side of the coffee table as Alex pouted.
“Come on, Princess Alex! You need to put on your earrings!” Zoe’s voice broke through Eric’s hysterics, but he started right back up a moment later as Alex grudgingly grabbed the blue earrings and clipped them on his earlobes. “See Princess Alex! You almost have all your jewelry!”
Eric pursed his lips to stop the laughter and Claudine crossed the room to smack him in the arm. “Oh hush, you! Like you wouldn’t play if she asked!”
I smirked as Eric conceded her point and Coleman stood from his spot on the floor. “Here, come take my place Eric. I’ll help Mom in the kitchen.”
Zoe clapped her hands gleefully and Alex stuck out his tongue as his brother took his spot. Coleman gladly handed over the ring and bracelet he’d been wearing and I couldn’t help but laugh as Eric made a production out of putting them on.
I grinned again as Claudine paused on her way past to pull me into a hug.
“Do you need any help?” She chuckled and shook her head.
“Nah. My biggest issue is keeping Coleman away from the food. He’s a grazer.”
I laughed heartily because that must be a learned behavior; Eric was the exact same. His fingers had been smacked more times than I could count.
“Hey!” Godric’s voice echoed in the foyer as the door slammed.
Claudine groaned. “Hooligans! All of them!”
She retreated to the kitchen with Coleman on her heels as Godric rounded the corner and burst into laughter at the sight of his brothers and Zoe. I elbowed him lightly as he pulled me into his side for a half hug.
“Oh hush. Or they’ll rope you in too!”
x . x . x . x . x
“Mommy! They’re hoggin’ it!”
I pursed my lips to hold back the laughter as I pulled Zoe to sit on my lap. “Well, Doodlebug, boys are weird.”
Her little arms crossed over her chest as she pouted and Claudine rubbed her arm gently.
“Dude! You cheated!”
Eric’s loud voice bowled over any response we tried to make. Godric scowled at his brother and threw some popcorn across the table as he grabbed the green bracelet. “Hell no, bro! I landed there fair and square!”
Roman fingered his purple earrings gingerly as his nose wrinkled adorably. “These things are tighter than I thought they’d be.”
Alex rolled the dice and I smirked as I watched him case the table to see exactly how occupied his brothers were.
“YES! Oh yeah, oh yeah, uh huh, uh huh! I’m almost there bitches!” He grabbed his necklace, his last piece of jewelry besides the crown.
“Hey, Babydoll. Come with me.” Claudine’s whisper escaped the boys notice and she shot me a wink as she lifted Zoe and casually meandered out of the living room.
I laughed again as I turned my attention back to the game in progress.
Eric’s face was screwed up comically as he landed on a square. “Not again! Seriously this is like the fifth time I’ve had the black ring! You guys rigged this shit or something!”
I tugged my phone from my pocket and pulled up the camera. I can’t believe I let this go on so long without capturing this moment of humiliation. Eric glared at me as the flash went off. “That better not end up on social media. Or I’ll…I’ll…”
“What? You’ll kiss her to death?”
Before I could even think of an appropriate or coherent response, Alex was up and running with Eric following a second behind. I sensed a pattern here. This was the…fourth or fifth time I’d watched this same song and dance.
“Boys, if you break another vase your mom will kill you!” Coleman smirked as he passed the living room entrance, a file folder in his hand as he headed toward the office.
“FUCKIN’ A!” I rolled my eyes at Roman’s outburst and the two idiots paused in their game of chase. “I won, bitches! Gimme that crown, Twinkles!”
I raised an eyebrow as Alex ripped the crown off his head and tossed it to his brother. Then he was off again and Eric streaked by as he gave chase. “Uh, Twinkles?”
Godric and Roman glanced up from their spots on the floor, their fingers rising simultaneously to point at the mantle. I stood, almost afraid of what I’d find, and crossed the room, dodging the morons still running around the room.
Oh shit! Okay, yeah I could see where the nickname Twinkles came from. Apparently Alex had taken a few years of dance class. And each sparkly costumed picture of it was displayed proudly for all to see.
I turned away from the multitude of pictures to see Eric on top of Alex, whaling gently as Alex reached up to yank on Eric’s blond mop of hair. Then my eyes cut to Zoe who stood in the doorway with her fists on her tiny hips.
I burst into laughter as Claudine appeared behind my daughter, a beaming grin on her face as the boys took in the sight before them.
Zoe, my six year old, was positively dripping in precious stones. Eric gave Alex another swift punch in the gut before he hopped up and swooped Zoe into his arms.
“Well, aren’t you the prettiest Princess of us all?”
She gave him a sardonic eye roll before she laid a quick kiss on his cheek. “Of course, Daddy! Grandma let me wear her real jewelry. It’s much better than that plastic crap!”
My hand shot to cover my mouth as I barked out a laugh and Eric smirked my way. “Yes indeed, Doodlebug. You’re completely right.”
“RISE AND SHINE!!”
Aw fuck, it was way too early for this shit! “Mom, get out!”
Sookie shifted under the sheet and her eyes opened sleepily as she shot me a small smile.
“Good morning, honey.”
And there’s the shriek I was waiting for. Sookie shot up, clutching the sheet to her naked chest…Sookie’s boobs…ah no! I shook my head to get that thought out of my head. My already half hard cock was not something I needed to deal with while my mother was in the room.
“Oh, I’m sorry honey. It’s just I’m so excited!”
Aaaand, Mom plopped down on the bed. Wonderful.
“Mom, do you think we can save the family pow wow for when we’re not naked in bed?” I ran a hand down my face and pulled myself up to lean against the headboard.
Mom rolled her eyes as I pulled Sookie to me and wrapped my arm around her shoulder. Poor girl was still panting in fright.
“I just wanted to make sure you were up. We’ve got a lot of celebrating to do!”
I groaned as I caught sight of the clock on the nightstand behind her. It read six fucking thirty. “How are you even awake, Crazy Lady? We came back here at eleven last night and you still weren’t home. Did you sleep over there?”
My mother had gone to my aunt and uncle’s house yesterday afternoon. It wasn’t unusual for her and Aunt Neave to get together the day before a family party and…do whatever they did. I don’t know and I didn’t want to know. All I know is that they usually holed themselves up for hours at a time and I wanted no part of it.
“Don’t you take that tone with me, boy. I’m excited. This is Sookie and Zoe’s first holiday with us!”
Sookie, who’s breathing had finally regulated, smiled and snuggled further down into the blankets. “I’m betting Zoe is already awake. Do you want to get her dressed and take her over to the big house? I’ll have him over there in a half hour. Tops.”
Mom just smirked and patted her blanket covered leg. “Oh, take a few extra minutes, darling. You might need the extra endorphins to deal with all of us.”
Seriously?! Sookie’s face flushed to a bright scarlet as Mom bounced up and out the door. Her startled expression just made me laugh-and earned me a nice slap on the chest.
“What the hell?!? Does your mom have any boundaries?”
“None whatsoever. Although I’ve never had a girl for her to bust in on me with. She has caught me mid-masturbation a few times and just tossed a sock at me. Told me not to ruin her good towels.”
My lovely, feminine, completely awesome girlfriend let out the most unladylike snort I’ve ever heard and I burst into laughter. She joined me a moment later, throwing herself back to the mattress to clutch her stomach.
“Oh, I can totally see her saying that. Your mom is a trip!”
x . x . x . x . x
Wow, I felt great. Morning quickies are the best! I walked toward the main house, Sookie’s hand clutched in my own, and reflected on how different this year was from last.
Last year I’d sulked by the pool for about an hour before I retreated to the pool house to ignore everyone. Last year I had an awesome family that I had come to underappreciate. Last year I was, frankly, miserable. And the next morning, I’d woken up with Godric’s feet in my face after we’d drunk half my liquor cabinet to drown our sorrows.
Now I had a family of my own and I was much closer to the one I’d already had. Now I had a movie that I loved and was completely invested in. Now I planned to take full advantage of the holiday to celebrate new beginnings. I mean, 4th of July was a new beginning of sorts. At least that’s what I was telling myself.
We made it to the side door and I pulled it open to usher Sookie inside when she stopped short. I slammed into her back, barely catching her before she fell.
My eyes widened as I saw why she’d stopped. Beignets and cut up fruit covered every available surface in my Mom’s kitchen. Not to mention the…I counted quickly in my head…twelve cartons of juice spread across the table in the dining room. “What the hell?! Claudine, don’t you think this is a little much?”
“Is that any way to talk to your elders, girlie?!”
What?!? Sookie squealed in delight and ripped herself from my arms as Esther ambled around the corner. Gordon followed a moment later and laughed merrily as Sookie slammed into his wife, her arms nearly squeezing the life out of her.
Mom smiled at us all from behind the kitchen island as Gordon pulled me forward into a manly hug. “You’re part of the family now. No reason to stand on formality.”
Sookie’s eyes were watery as she abandoned Esther to jump into Gordon’s arms and the older woman grabbed me around the neck to pull down to her level. “You’re doing wonderfully with her. I’ve never seen her happier, young man.”
Well shit. Now my eyes were watery. I patted her back, a little awkwardly since she was so small, and thanked her quietly as Gordon settled Sookie on a barstool beside us.
“Well, eat up! You’re still far too skinny.” Esther shoved me roughly toward the barstool beside Sookie. “I thought you’d been cooking for him, Baby Girl.”
I raised an eyebrow as Sookie gulped down the mouthful of beignet she had stuffed into her mouth. “Lovely. You’re so ladylike.” I leaned over to plant a sloppy kiss on her cheek…and maybe steal the fourth bit of deliciousness she had on her plate.
“I have been. He’s just a freak and never gains weight.”
“Oh and the nightly acrobatics you two do have nothing to do with it, huh?”
Thank you, Godric. He always chose the best times to make an entrance. Sookie’s face flamed red again as Esther shot her a wink. “Nothing to be ashamed of, Girlie. I’d take advantage of that hunk of man too if I was thirty years younger!”
Sookie dropped her head to the counter as we all laughed and Godric settled himself on the barstool beside me. He reached across to grab a powdered sugar bomb and stuff it into his big fat mouth.
“So.” Sookie cleared her throat as she glanced around the kitchen. “How’d you do all this?”
Claudine smiled and threw an arm over Esther’s shoulder. “Godric took me to their wonderful cafe a few days ago. I happened to mention the party and they offered to make us all breakfast.”
Awwww. This couple was the best psuedo-grandparents Sookie could’ve asked for. “Thank you, guys! These are delicious! As always.”
Esther beamed at me and Gordon just chuckled. I heard the front door open and Roman shuffling in the foyer. Hopefully Nora wasn’t with him. I could wait a million years for that harpy to join us and I’d be way too happy if she never did.
“Still, this is way too much food for all of us! Did Zoe eat yet?”
“Nope! I haven’t eaten yet!”
I spun around to grab my tiny miracle…and froze.
Holy mother fucker!
A chorus of hellos greeted us as Sookie’s family-her entire family, it seemed-piled into the kitchen. What the hell? How-I mean, what-holy mother fucker!
Sookie glanced back at my mom, tears streaming down her face. “Did you do this?”
Mom smiled back gently and rounded the island to hug Sookie. “Yeah. Eric mentioned how you usually celebrate with your family. Just because you’re down here doesn’t mean you should have to choose.”
Wow. Just when I thought my mom was the best ever…she went and did something like this. And I loved her even more than I thought possible.
Jesus and Lafayette grinned at me as Claudette crossed the kitchen to hug the Wyatt’s, followed by Claude, who leered at Godric as he passed.
“Claude, nice to meet you. You must be the absolutely scrumptious morsel Eric and Sookie were telling me about.”
It was Godric’s turn to flush a brilliant shade of crimson as he gingerly held a hand out, which Claude promptly caressed…with his lips. Wow.
“So you’re the blond giant my sister’s been going on about?” I glanced toward Sookie who was wrapped in the embrace of a couple about my parent’s age before I turned my attention back to the man in front of me.
“And you must be Jason.” He pumped the hand I stuck out, nearly cracking my bones with his grip.
“I am. Now, you’ve already gotten Lala and Jesus’s approval so I’ll save the protective brother speech.” He clapped a hand on my shoulder and grinned widely at me as Gordon grabbed him in for a hug.
Sookie approached me with the couple in tow and folded herself into my arms. “Eric, this is my Uncle Dermot and Aunt Linda. Unc, Aunt Linda, this is Eric.”
I held a hand out, seeing as Sookie was currently resting between my legs and blocking my body. No hugs at the moment. Except for her of course.
“Nice to meet you, son. I’ve heard all about you, so no need to scare you yet.” Dermot held a hand out and I gripped it tightly. “Besides, I have a feeling your family would do more damage than we ever could if you hurt her.”
Truer words were never spoken and I nodded while Sookie sniffled out a small laugh.
“Oh honey, it’s so good to finally meet you! Zoe’s just been going on and on about her new Daddy!” Linda winked my way and I smiled over at Zoe who was perched on the counter in front of Lala, covered in powdered sugar.
“Guys! She’s gonna be hyper all day if you feed her anymore of that!” Sookie’s adorable whine just caused another round of laughter throughout the kitchen and Jesus waved her off.
“Do you see how many of us there are here, Sook? It’ll be fine.”
“And the best of the bunch is now here!” Leave it to Thomas to make another grand entrance.
He bounced into the kitchen, arms raised like he’d just won a prize fight, and went directly to Zoe. He bowed dramatically and kissed the back of her hand as he wedged his way between Lafayette and Jesus.
“Thomas Hyde. A pleasure!” He glanced around the room, his eyes coming to an abrupt halt as they rested on Claudette. “My heavens! What glorious specimen has the good Lord seen fit to drop in my lap this fine morning?!”
He rounded the island and stood before Sookie’s cousin as she gazed at him, seemingly unimpressed. Her eyes swept over his body, ignoring the hand he extended toward her, and he reciprocated, his gaze heated.
“Hey, Sook? Can you die of constipation?” All eyes swiftly shot to Claudette as she lounged against the counter. “‘Cause I’m kinda concerned about how full of shit that one is. Best of the bunch, my ass!”
“I beg your pardon!” Thomas’s indignant screech was hard to hear over the sound of absolutely everyone roaring with laughter.
Claudette shrugged as her mother leaned across me to slap lightly at her offspring. “Excuse my bitch of a daughter. She’s probably on the rag.”
My mom and Esther exploded in laughter, the sound echoing off the kitchen walls, as Claudette shrugged unapologetically. Mom rounded the island and threw her arm around Sookie’s aunt after tugging her away from her husband. “Oh, you’ll fit right in. Come on, meet everyone else.”
I glanced around the kitchen as everyone talked amongst themselves. Finally-finally-Sookie had found people who loved her and appreciated her.
I grabbed another beignet and stuffed into my mouth, smiling obnoxiously when that git pouted at me again. Seriously. He thought he was God’s gift to women and I’d be more than happy to slap him back to Earth with us mere mortals.
“So, Claudette. What do you do?” The man, Coleman if I remembered correctly, leaned against the counter next to me.
I grinned up at him. He really seemed nice, if not much more reserved than the rest of his family. “I help Claude run the shop and I tutor Zoe. Sookie didn’t want her going to the public school up there. Bunch of idjits! They wouldn’t know chocolate from their shit if it was coming out their own ass. ”
He snorted out a laugh as I rolled my eyes again. Seriously. The vultures up there were horrible and I was so incredibly glad when I moved. Even when I came back down South, I stayed far enough away from that backwater hellhole.
“I take it the people there are…intellectually challenged?”
I raised an eyebrow at him as I surveyed the families again. “They didn’t tell you?”
“Tell me what?”
Well, shit. I ground my teeth as I searched for an escape-any escape-from the inevitable shithole I’d just plopped myself in. “Uh…I don’t know if I should tell you. It’s really Eric or Sookie’s story…”
Well, fuck he wasn’t buying it. He had the ‘dad’ face on and I knew he’d weasel it out of me or worse-get my dad to gang up on me. I really didn’t want to be responsible for telling Daddy about last week. “Oh, alright. But not here.”
Mom caught my eye as I slipped backward through the open doorway to the dining room and I shook my head slightly. Without hesitation, she turned my Dad the other way and engaged him with…one of Eric’s brothers. I can’t remember which one.
“Okay, so has Eric or Sookie told you anything about Bon Temps?” He shook his head, his eyebrows pulled low as he frowned. Fuuuuuuuuuck. “Well it’s a town of fucktards, basically. They’ve treated Sookie badly her whole life. Jason got off easier because he was older-and a guy. But the townspeople don’t exactly approve of the ‘kinds of people she consorts with’.”
Again I got an incredulous look from Coleman and I just shrugged. “Bunch of inbred Bible Beaters. They have the collective mental prowess of a glacier and times haven’t changed in over a hundred years. Foreigners and ‘faggots’ aren’t welcome. Sookie being Michelle’s daughter didn’t help any, either.”
“What? What happened with Sookie’s mom?”
Fuuuuuuuuuuuuck! I couldn’t catch a break here! Did these people know nothing about my damn cousin?!
“Listen it’s her story to tell. Suffice to say, the town is horrible. You want to know more, ask your son. It’s not like Sookie hides it and from what I understand, your boy is trying to build her up and counteract what those hicks have drilled into her head. I’m done. Sorry I couldn’t be more help.”
Well, that was probably a bridge burned, but I had no intention of spilling all my cousin’s deep dark secrets. Some things were meant to stay buried.
I ambled back into the kitchen and leaned my hip against the counter. Shit, I really shouldn’t have more beignets. But they were just sitting there on the counter all by their lonesome…
“Well, who are you? You’re pretty.”
I glanced…up…at the man-child who spoke. “And you’re young. Who are you?”
“Alex. I’m Eric’s little brother.”
“Claudette, Sookie’s cousin.” He nodded my way as he reached around me to get a handful of powdered sugar pastries. “So tell me, Beanpole. Who are all these people? I didn’t get introductions. Except, of course, for Thomas.”
He laughed loudly, drawing the eyes of a few people, though they went back to whatever they were doing quickly. “Okay, that over there is my oldest brother, Roman. His shrew of a wife isn’t here yet, thank fuck! Then there’s Godric who’s stuttering at that guy over there-” I laughed as I caught sight of Claude doing his best to give the poor guy a heart attack. “-my sister Pam will be here later ‘cause she’s with her girl of the week. You already know Eric and Sookie, obviously, and Thomas. Then there’s my Mom.”
I nodded as Esther crossed the kitchen for us and Alex gulped audibly. “Shit! I’m outta here! She’s gonna try to force feed me!”
The older woman smirked as Alex ran away like his tighty whities caught fire.”These skinny boys! I need to fatten them all up. And you, young lady! Where did all those nice curves of yours go?!”
I groaned. “That was in eighth fucking grade, Esther! Do you have to remind me every single time you see me?!”
“Oh, that’s what us old folk are for! Haven’t you learned that by now, Claudipie?” Gordon wrapped his arm around his wife as he broke into our conversation.
“Y’all are gonna give me a complex, I swear.” I swiftly glanced around, determined to weed out and silence anyone who heard that damned nickname.
“Whatcha doin’ over there, sis? Looking for the pie?” Damn my brother. Damn my brother to fucking hell! His bionic hearing-or maybe his sister torture sensor-must’ve been working overtime to have heard Esther all the way across the kitchen.
“Why would she be looking for pie? It’s like seven thirty in the morning and we’ve still got mountains of beignets.” My fucking family all giggled like the dimwits they were as that one brother of Eric’s…Cassius or Italy or Roman, whatever…asked his stupid question.
“Oh, well our dear Claudette has this little habit of stealing pies during holiday celebrations. She has to bring her own now because she’d devour ours before the damn meal even started!” My mother, the comedian.
I rolled my eyes as everyone laughed-ha fucking ha. That douchcanoe Thomas just smirked my way and mimed a kiss. He might’ve flinched as I mimed back a suckerpunch.
Jason caught my eye as he relieved Jesus and Lafayette from Zoe duty, his blond head dipping subtly toward his sister. My eyes cut over to her and Eric, a smile lightening my face a moment later.
They were perfect. That ooey, gooey, true love shit you only find in books? That’s what they had. It was real and absolutely perfect in it’s imperfection. They seemed to almost gravitate around each other. The cosmic push and pull they seemed to exert over each other was magnetic and compelling.
I was so happy for Sookie. And so completely jealous. I’d never begrudge her the happiness Eric seemed to bring out, but I sure as hell wanted it for myself too.
She caught my eye for a moment, the gleam in hers unmistakable. It was only a matter of time before they’d catch up. She was his completely. And if the adoring way he stared at her like the sun shined out her ass was anything to go by, the feeling was entirely mutual.
“Auntie C?” I glanced down to see Zoe gazing adoringly up at me. I lifted her easily into my arms and propped her on my hip. Damn, but I’d missed this kid.
“What’s up, kid?” Her little head leaned against my shoulder and she sighed happily.
“This is gonna be the bestest holiday ever. Dontcha think?”
I gazed around the kitchen absolutely brimming with people, all talking animatedly with each other and I had to concede her point. This was indeed shaping up to be the best holiday yet.