I can still feel the breeze that rustles through the trees
And misty memories of days gone by
We could never see tomorrow, no one said a word about the sorrow.
And how can you mend a broken heart?
How can you stop the rain from falling down?
How can you stop the sun from shining?
What makes the world go round?
How can you mend this broken man?
How can a loser ever win?
Please help me mend my broken heart and let me live again.
~ How Can You Mend a Broken Heart by The Bee Gees
The weekend after Thanksgiving, Hunter and I decorate the house for Christmas. It’s been a tradition in the Stackhouse family for as long as I can remember. As a child, I remember that my Daddy would always bring home the biggest pine tree he could find. Daddy would string up all the lights and garland, and then Momma, Jason, and I would put up the rest of the decorations. As much as I loved a real tree, it is too much work for just Hunter and me. So, we decorated the pre-lit tree I had purchased the first Christmas it was just Hunter and me. I loved how easy it was; this thing snapped together in three pieces, all I had to do was fluff the branches.
As I am setting up the tree, Hunter gently unpacks the ornaments for the tree. He sets each ornament gingerly on the ottoman and table. Most of our ornaments were passed down in the family. We also have ornaments that Hunter has made. Decorating the Christmas tree is like walking down memory lane. Of course, I feel sadness creep over me. Some of the ornaments remind me of the Sam; the two snowmen from our first Christmas together, the ones from our honeymoon in Walt Disney World, our baby boy. Seeing the ornaments brings back so many memories of our life together. But I don’t feel myself sinking into a pit of despair; it is more like a slow throbbing ache, not the sharp piercing pain I remember from the early days.
After we finish decorating the tree, Hunter and I make hot chocolate with marshmallows. We also watch our favorite Christmas movies; another Stackhouse family tradition. We cuddle on the couch as we watch Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, Frosty the Snowman, and Santa Claus is Coming to Town. My little man falls asleep before the end of the last movie. I carry him to his room and tuck him in for the night.
The work week flies by as it usually does. Before Sam was deployed, I had been a nurse in labor and delivery at one of the local hospitals. The pay was great and the schedule allowed me a lot of flexibility to be with the family. The problem was that it was 12-hour shifts, which I couldn’t work if it was just Hunter and I. So I found a job at the rehabilitation center, which is where I met Jesus. The rehabilitation center allowed me to work Monday through Friday, 8:00 am to 5:00 am. It wasn’t what I wanted to be doing; I had really enjoyed being part of seeing all those new babies born. But this is what I needed to do to make sure my baby was taken care of. He attended pre-school during the day; when that was over, our next door neighbor Amelia watched him until I got home. Amelia is a stay at home mom; her son, Travis, is the same age as Hunter and they are in the same pre-school class. I’ve been really lucky to be supported by so many amazing people.
The first Saturday in December, I am braving the mall trying to finish my Christmas shopping. Thankfully, Jesus and Lafayette agreed to watch Hunter while I shop. I thank God every day for the wonderful friends we have been blessed with. Fortunately, Hunter’s gifts are already taken care of. I put all of his stuff on lay-away back in September. I was in Dillards, hoping to find presents for Jesus and Gran. I was browsing the cologne counter when I felt someone behind me.
“Are you buying me something pretty?” I turn around to find Eric lounging against the opposite counter. He is dressed casually in dark jeans, an Army t-shirt, leather jacket, and Converse sneakers. He is staring at me teasingly.
“And why should I buy something for you?” I tease him. Good Lord, he looks good in everything he wears. It’s not really fair and I feel especially frumpy looking at him. I ran out of the house this morning in a pair of battered jeans, an oversized sweatshirt, and my hair pulled back in a messy bun.
Eric straightens up and slowly walks to stand in front of me. He looks down at me with his piercing blue eyes and a sexy smirk spreads across his face. “Because I’m irresistible,” he says as his voice drops to a deeper octave. My eyes widen in shock and my lips form an “O” but I cannot speak. OH MY GOD!! His voice sounds like it is vibrating in his chest and I feel the vibration lower in my body. A blush rushes up my neck and spreads across my cheeks. What the hell is happening to me?
Before I make a total ass of myself, the store clerk appears asking if we need any help. I pivot quickly and paste a nervous smile on my face. I tell the clerk I would like to buy a bottle of Burberry Brit for Men and a bottle of Davidov’s Cool Water. However, I don’t think the clerk heard me. She is staring at Eric in open-mouthed awe. Well, at least I wasn’t the only one struck stupid by him. The clerk asks Eric if there is anything he would need, licking her lips and staring at him hungrily.
“Just the two items my companion asked for,” Eric says coldly. The clerk stares at him a moment longer before walking to the cabinet to collect the items I requested. She asks me if there is anything else I would like, but I decline. I hand her my credit card so she can ring up my transaction.
“Who is the cologne for?” Eric asks while we wait.
“Jesus and Lafayette; I put a bottle of their favorite cologne in their stocking every year.”
“You celebrate Christmas with them too? What about your family?” Curiousity blazes in Eric’s eyes as he looks down at me.
I shrug before answering. “I don’t have a lot of family left; just my brother and Gran. Sometimes they come up here. As for Sam’s family, we’ve never been close. To be honest, I haven’t really heard from them since Sam’s funeral,” I finish quietly. It breaks my heart to know that Hunter’s only living grandparents have nothing to do with him. To shake off the sadness, I turn the tables on him. “What about you? Do you spend Christmas with your family?”
Eric rolls his eyes in exasperation. “The only family I have here is my sister Pam. She gives me a detailed list every year of what she deems acceptable Christmas presents.”
My brow furrows in concentration, “What about your parents?”
Pain flashes across his features before his expression goes blank. “My parents are dead,” he says flatly.
Before I can say anything in response, the clerk comes back to the counter asking me to sign the merchant copy of the receipt. She hands me the bag quickly and turns her attention to Eric again.
“Are you sure there isn’t anything I can do for you?” she asks brazenly. I notice she is leaning against the counter, pushing her breasts together to deepen her cleavage. She licks her lips again and tosses her hair over her shoulder. Seriously??????? What a ho!!!!!
“Yes, there is something you can do for me,” Eric says after some thought. The store clerk’s face lights up as he leans closer to her. “Stop eye-fucking me; you reek of desperation. And I don’t do desperate.” He straightens up quickly and grabs my hand, dragging me away from the counter. I cannot help but look back over my shoulder. The store clerk is standing there with her mouth hanging open and a dull red flush on her cheeks. I cannot help but snigger at her discomfort. Serves her right.
Eric stops in the handbag section of the store. He still has my hand engulfed in his; his thumb brushing lightly across my knuckles. He walks up to the counter and looks around expectantly. An elderly sales clerk makes her way behind the counter. “Can I help you young man?” she asks sweetly. She is adorable with her white curls and glasses perched on her face with a chain to hold them around her neck.
“Yes, ma’am, you most certainly can.” He pulls his cell phone out of his pocket and quickly pulls up his pictures. “Do you happen to have these two bags here and the matching wallet for the one?”
She looks at the pictures with a smile. “Yes, I have all of them. Would you like to see them?”
He genuinely smiles at her, “No, ma’am. You can just wrap them up for me.”
She looks at the two of us with a smile. “You are such a sweet boy if you are buying your girlfriend these bags.” She moves away to get the items for Eric, before I can protest. Why would she think we are dating? A piece of hair hangs down in front of my eyes. I move to push it back, but realize that my right hand is still in Eric’s. I blush slightly as I gently tug my hand so he’ll know to let it go.
“Sorry,” he mumbles as he releases my hand. I don’t say anything as I push the strand of hair behind my ear. Needing to put some distance between us, I start browsing through the bags on display. One bag in particular catches my eye. It’s a beautiful blue and white striped Michael Kors bag. I touch the bag longingly, but know I cannot afford it now.
Eric sees my fascination with the bag. “That color would look good on you. You should buy it.”
“Eric, it’s almost $250. I can’t buy that!” I would love to have that bag, but I’m here to shop for other people. I don’t need it. I move over to the counter of gloves and scarves. I’m sure I can find something here for Gran.
I fucking hate shopping; I’m a guy, it’s not really my thing. When I have to shop, I’m usually in and out. I don’t waste time trying things or figuring out what color looks better on me. But the thing I hate the most is being in the fucking mall during the Christmas season. Every year I tell myself I’m going to do all my holiday shopping online, and every year I still find myself at the mall. Of course, I blame Pam. If she wasn’t so goddamn particular, I wouldn’t be here. I’ve pleaded with her over the years to just let me give her money so she can buy what she wants after Christmas. I’ve even asked her to just buy the stuff she wants and have it wrapped so I can give it to her on Christmas. But she refuses; instead she gives me a detailed list of everything she wants, including pictures, sku numbers, and stores I can find the items in. Un-fucking-believable!
It is because of said list that I find myself in Dillard’s the first Saturday of December. I’m hoping that by being here early in the month, I can avoid the worst of the crowds. Of course that thought evaporates as it takes me ten minutes to find a fucking parking spot in the parking lot. I am in a foul mood as I walk into Dillard’s. I decide to make my way to the perfume counter first; Pam always asks me for a bottle of Mademoiselle by Chanel. I walk down the aisle that is between all the perfume counters. I lean impatiently against the counter waiting for one of the overworked sales clerks to make their way to me. As I look around, I see Sookie leaning against the men’s cologne counter. A smile of pleasure moves across my face as I look her over. She looks adorable in her jeans and sweatshirt; she looks like a kid dressed up in her dad’s clothing.
She and I exchanged phone numbers and email addresses at Thanksgiving. We had texted a few times throughout the week, but nothing too deep. I had thought about calling her this weekend, asking for her help with my shopping, but I was afraid I’d seem like I was coming on too strong. I hadn’t lied to Sookie when I said I wanted to be her friend; I do. What I didn’t tell her was that I was attracted to her; I didn’t want to scare her. I was hoping that eventually my attraction to her would fade away.
Since Sookie hadn’t seen me yet, I decided to tease her a bit. What I hadn’t expected was for her to tease me in return. Was she flirting with me? Without thinking, I switched to seductive mode in an instant. Sookie’s breathe catches and her skin darkens with her flush. The errant thought crosses my mind that she will probably look the same way during sex. Where the fuck did that come from?!?!?!?! My cock twitches at the thought and I hope she doesn’t notice. Fortunately, the clerk asks us if there is anything we need.
This woman is irritating. She is staring at me like she wants to devour me. I’ve gotten used to women staring at me over the years, it’s happened for as long as I can remember. But with Sookie by my side, I don’t like it. It feels wrong, and I don’t like how the clerk disregards Sookie’s presence. For all she knows, Sookie and I are together but she throws herself at me regardless. Once we finish, I pull Sookie away from the counter quickly, my hand holding hers. It feels so right to have her hand in mine, it’s comforting. I find myself brushing my thumb against her knuckles because I love the feel of her skin.
Thank God the next sales clerk is a woman old enough to be my grandmother. I show her the respect she deserves. She is very efficient at her job and makes acquiring these gifts for Pam painless. I see Sookie looking at one of the Michael Kors bags and it looks perfect for her. I ask her if she is going to buy it and she balks at the price. She moves over to one of the other counters and starts looking through scarves. While she is distracted, I get the attention of the sales clerk.
“Yes dear, what can I do for you?”
“Can you also add that bag and the matching wallet to my purchase? But can you wrap them quickly? I don’t want her to see,” I say as I gesture over my shoulder towards Sookie.
The elder woman pats my hand gently, “You are such a good boyfriend. Your girlfriend is very lucky,” she says as she walks back towards the cash register. I know I should correct the woman’s assumption, but I cannot help the smile that crosses my face at the thought of Sookie as my girlfriend. If only I were so lucky.
The rest of the afternoon passes quickly. Sookie helps me get the rest of the items on Pam’s list. I help her pick out items for the men in her life. We grabbed lunch at one of the restaurants in the mall; it was the least I could do for having her help me. We spent the afternoon joking with one another and sharing funny stories from our lives. An afternoon I had dreaded turned into one of the best I’d had in a very long time.
The next few weeks passed quickly. Sookie and I talked almost every day via text or phone calls. It is amazing how comfortable I feel with her. We have similar tastes in music and movies. We’ve shared stories from our pasts, some good, some bad. The weekend after our shopping adventure, Sookie and Hunter were making Christmas cookies. I was envious thinking of how wonderful the house would smell and how delicious the goodies must taste. I had wanted to stop by, but unfortunately my PT exam was scheduled for that weekend. It had been rescheduled twice, and I needed to get it over quickly. I knew I was in line for a promotion and I felt they were just waiting for my PT score to give it to me.
That Sunday night, having passed my exam with flying colors, I met Alcide at the Mexican restaurant for dinner. Maria was working the bar. When she handed me my Corona, she also handed me a basket filled Christmas cookies, candies, and bread. She said that she had seen Sookie earlier in the morning at church and she had asked Maria to pass the treats along. I couldn’t control the smile that broke out on my face, and I quickly used my phone to send Sookie a text message.
Me: You are an angel. Thank you for the basket.
Sookie: You’re welcome. I figured you deserved a reward after all that running around. 😉
Me: I can’t talk now. I have to defend my basket from Alcide. He’s trying to steal my cookies!
Sookie: LOL. I’m sure you can handle him. Have a good night!
I drop my phone on the bar and grab Alcide’s hand that’s searching through my basket. I twist his arm slightly so it is at an uncomfortable angle.
“What the hell man?” Alcide asks.
“Don’t touch my stuff. Sookie gave it to me,” I say as I release his arm.
“There is more in there than you could eat. You could definitely share,” Alcide grumbles.
“Not a chance in hell, Wolf,” I say as I place the basket on the seat next to me.
Alcide looks at me questioningly. “What is going on with you and Sookie?”
I look at him in confusion. “What do you mean? We’re just friends.” I take a swig of my beer and start looking through the basket she gave me. She remembered that I love oatmeal raisin cookies more than chocolate chip; so I have a very large bag of oatmeal raisin cookies. Since I can be generous, I give Alcide the chocolate chip cookies. Maybe it will distract him from this line of questioning.
Alcide’s eyes light up and he opens the bag of cookies. He inhales deeply and grunts in approval. He shoves two of the cookies in his mouth at once and chews noisily. I look at Maria incredulously. “You’re still with this guy even though he eats like a pig?”
Maria shrugs her shoulders. “What can I say? I find him charming,” she says dryly and walks away to take care of other patrons.
Alcide licks his lips to make sure he got all the chocolate. His table manners are disturbing to say the least. But he seems to have forgotten about questioning me in regards to Sookie, and that’s a good thing. If he were to ask me questions, I don’t think I have any answers to give him.