Sometimes in our lives
We all have pain, we all have sorrow
But if we are wise
We know that there’s always tomorrow
Lean on me when you’re not strong
And I’ll be your friend, I’ll help you carry on
For it won’t be long
‘Til I’m gonna need somebody to lean on
~ Lean On Me by Bill Withers
Thank God for Lala!!!! I had dreaded the upcoming Thanksgiving holiday. In truth, I’ve dreaded all holidays this year. It’s so difficult to celebrate anything knowing that he won’t be there to celebrate with us. Even though Sam hadn’t been with us for a holiday in two years, Hunter and I still spoke to him every holiday. The holidays over the summer had been difficult because Sam’s death had been so fresh for us. Labor Day we attended a barbecue at one of our neighbor’s homes. It had been bittersweet, but we managed to get through it ok. Halloween, while fun, had been hard for me. As I was taking pictures of Hunter in his pirate costume, I got a little weepy because I realized I wouldn’t be able to send the pictures to Sam.
As we entered November, I got a little depressed. I think Jesus could sense my depression, so he invited Hunter and me to dinner one evening. Jesus and Lafayette are two of my favorite people on the planet. I don’t know where I would be without them. Even before Sam’s passing, Lala and Jesus would check up on Hunter and me. They adored Hunter; always buying him clothes and toys, spending time playing with him, taking him on camping trips. I was happy that Hunter had positive male influences in his life.
I was in the kitchen with Lala helping cook dinner while Jesus played a game with Hunter. I was the only person Lala would allow in the kitchen to cook with him. He said we were kindred spirits in our cooking styles so I was always allowed to help. I think that was a nice way of saying Jesus didn’t know how to boil a pot of water. We all have our strengths…
“Hooka, what’s the matter witchya?” Lafayette asks as he stirs his homemade sauce.
I am mixing meat and spices to make homemade meatballs. I use my forearm to brush the hair back from my face so I can look at him. “What are you talking about?”
Lala puts his hand on his hip and gives me a sour look, “Girl, you know damn well what I’m talkin’ ‘bout! What’s goin’ on in that pretty little head of yours?”
I sigh as I start rolling the meat mixture into balls. “It’s the holiday season, Lafayette. It’s hard to knowing that Sam…” I blink rapidly as tears form in my eyes. I look down trying to will away the tears.
Lafayette sighs. He’s been around me enough now to know not to react to my tears. Showing me any kind of sympathy will set me off on a crying jag. Once I have myself under control, we resume the conversation. “What are you two doin’ for Thanksgiving?” Lafayette asks as he samples the sauce. It must not be to his liking since he reaches into the spice cabinet. I see him add some basil and oregano.
I sigh. “Gran and Jason want me to come home.” Lafayette and I are both from Louisiana, from the same parish actually. However, I never knew Lafayette. He is several years older than me. He did know my brother though. They had played on rival high school football teams.
Lafayette looks at me shrewdly, “Why don’t you wanna go home?”
I finish shaping the meatballs and move to the sink to wash my hands. I lean against the counter as I’m drying my hands, “I know if I go home, both of them are going to try to convince to me move back there. I love my family, I do. But I don’t want to go back there. I left a long time ago. If I go back now, I…” my voice trails off in frustration.
“I hears ya. If you go back now, you feel like you’ll get stuck there,” Lala says knowingly.
“Exactly,” I say. I reach down into a cabinet and pull out the electric skillet. I go to the pantry and pull out the olive oil. I put a small amount of oil in the skillet and turn the skillet on to heat the oil. After the oil heats up, I drop the first batch of meatballs into the skillet to cook.
Lafayette covers the sauce so that it can simmer. He pulls down a small skillet, drops some butter and fresh garlic into the skillet. Once the garlic is sautéed, he sets it to the side to cool. He grabs a French baguette and quickly slices it down. He brushes the slices of bread with the melted butter garlic mixture. Places the bread on a baking sheet, and sets it to the side. “If you don’t go home, what are you doing for the holiday?”
I shrug as I flip the meatballs. “I don’t know. I can’t see cooking for just Hunter and me. I don’t wanna go to any of the festivities on the base. You have any ideas?” I slide the cooked meatballs to a platter lined with paper towels to soak up any excess oil.
Lala’s eyes get wide and he starts fluttering his hands in an excited way. “We can host Thanksgiving here! You and me, we’s do the cookin’. We’d invite all our friends. Watch some football…eats some good food…drink lots a drinks! Come on, Sook!” Lafayette stares at me with puppy dog eyes. Fuck, I hate when he does that!
“Alright!” I shout and Lala starts clapping his hands in delight. He runs out of the kitchen calling for Jesus, “Baby, guess what!!! We’s hosting Thanksgiving this year.”
The four of us spend the rest of the evening planning what we will be making for the holiday and discussing who to invite. It’s a great evening and I feel my spirits lifting as I drive a sleeping Hunter home.
Hunter wakes me up early on Thanksgiving. He is so excited to watch the parade on TV. He is amazed by the giant balloons. We watch the parade for a bit, cuddling on the couch underneath an afghan that Gran had made. Breakfast is on the tray in between us; cinnamon rolls with milk for Hunter and coffee for me. I love my baby boy, I do, but I am not a morning person, I need my coffee to function. We watch the parade and I can’t help but smile when Hunter screams, “Santa!” He is bouncing up and down on his seat and singing Christmas songs. My little boy is so damn cute; I love him so much!
After the parade ends, I rush Hunter through a bath and getting dressed. While he watches a movie in my bedroom, I get ready for the day. I take a shower quickly, hop out and wrap myself in a towel. I decide to let my hair dry naturally. I moisturize my skin and then apply a light amount of makeup to my eyes and lips. I don’t really wear much else. I spray my perfume, Obsession by Calvin Klein (a gift from Lafayette), and get dressed. My beloved Saints are playing those damn Cowboys today. I am wearing my Brees jersey and jeans. I move out of the bathroom, grab my watch, necklace, and rings.
I leave Hunter in my bedroom watching his movie. I have a love/hate relationship with Disney. I love them for creating movies that children can sit and watch for hours on end, keeping my son occupied when I need to get something finished. I hate Disney because of all the money I’ve spent on toys related to their movies and because I have seen their movies so many times that I can recite them from start to finish in my sleep. While Hunter is occupied, I take everything out to the SUV that I’ve made for today; pies, casseroles, breads. Lafayette said that they were expecting somewhere around twenty people. I’m sure I went overboard on everything I made, but that’s how I remember Thanksgiving as a child; tons of food, family, and friends.
I come back into the house calling for Hunter. I hear him say in a minute; I swear I’m going to beat Jason for teaching him that one. I go upstairs to find Hunter and he is watching Lightning McQueen racing around the track against Chick Hicks. I turn off the movie and TV and give Hunter the “Mom” look.
“Mom, it was almost over!” Hunter protests from the bed.
“Come on, kid, we’ve got places to go, people to see, and a lot of food to eat! Besides, you’ve seen that movie a thousand times.” Hunter scrambles off the bed. We head outside and I lock the house as he climbs into the SUV. I quickly check to make sure he has himself secured in his booster seat, and then we take off.
We are the first ones to arrive at the home of Lafayette and Jesus, which is a good thing. Jesus comes out to greet us and help me get everything in. As I climb out, Jesus greets me with a kiss on the cheek.
“Careful, Sookie, he’s on the warpath this morning. He’s all kinds of flustered. I tried to help him, but he just ordered me out of the kitchen,” Jesus says as he reaches into my SUV grabbing a casserole dish and the basket containing the breads.
I open Hunter’s door and he scrambles out. He doesn’t have to bring toys when we come here, because Jesus and Lafayette have given Hunter his own room with toys. I grab my purse and pies as I respond to Jesus, “Don’t worry, my friend. I’m here now, so he will calm down.” I walk through the garage into the kitchen and hear Lafayette muttering to himself.
“What’s the matter Lala?” I set the pies down on the kitchen table. I throw my purse over a chair in the formal living room. I move over the stove where Lafayette is stirring a huge pot. I look inside and see its gumbo.
“Not a damn thing, Hooka. I just didn’t want Jesus in the kitchen messing up my masterpiece,” Lafayette says to me with a wink. I can’t help but laugh. I run out to the car to grab the rest of the pies and Jesus carries in the rest of the casserole dishes. Lafayette had agreed to cook the appetizers and the main courses, which are turkey, ham, gumbo, and vegetarian lasagna. I had agreed to make the side dishes, which consist of stuffing, sweet potato casserole, butternut squash soup, cole slaw, and broccoli salad. We split the desserts; I made the pies and Lala made trifle. When I come back in, I instantly get to work. I put the side dishes into the oven so that they can warm up. I transfer the soup to a soup pot and set it on the stove so that it can reheat. I help Lafayette set out the appetizers. Just as we finish up as the first guests start arrive. I’m happy to see everyone; it’s been a long time since I hung out with our friends. I didn’t realize how much I missed it. Lafayette must have a sixth sense about everything, because he sent me downstairs to hang out with everyone. He told me that he could handle making sure everything heated up.
The guys have turned the basement into the ultimate man cave. There is a TV viewing room with a huge TV mounted on the wall. There is a sectional, loveseat, and chairs. There is also a fully stocked bar in the basement, including wine and beer refrigerators. Down the hallway is a pool table. In the back of the basement is a full bathroom and bedroom. The basement is decorated with bar signs and there is a giant Marlin hanging on the wall that Jesus caught when the guys were vacationing in the Keys.
We watch the first football game of the day, Carolina vs. Detroit. The game isn’t even close; Detroit has a powerful offense, and Carolina has sucked for years. It’s been a lot of fun catching up with everyone, and Hunter plays with Jack, the son of our coworker Denise. Hunter comes to me at the end of the game saying he is tired. He asks if he can go up to his room and take a nap. I give him a kiss and he makes his way upstairs. I set the alarm on my phone so that I will wake him up in 90 minutes. I don’t want him to sleep too long or else he won’t sleep tonight.
Before the start of the Saints/Cowboys game, I hear the door open upstairs. It must be Maria and her new man since they are the only ones that aren’t here yet. The Cowboys win the coin toss and choose to defer. Stupid move, since the Saints explosive offense is going to make them pay. The first quarter is under way when footsteps are heard on the stairs. Maria introduces her boyfriend, Alcide, to all of us. Holy Mountain of a Man, Batman! This guy is huge! But it’s the guy behind him that I can’t take my eyes from.
Lieutenant Eric Northman.
He stops at the bottom of the steps and his eyes widen in recognition. I can’t help but smile at him. He smiles back at me. Holy hell, he is absolutely beautiful when he smiles! I get up from the couch to get a drink from the bar. I reach down into the beer refrigerator to grab a beer. When I stand up, he’s right in front of me. I smile at him nervously.
“Can I get you a drink?”
“I’ll take a beer,” he says. I reach into the fridge and pull another beer out. Grabbing the bottle opener, I open both of our drinks. I set his in front of him.
“Cheers,” he says to me with his bottle out. I clink my bottle against his and we both take a long drink.
“So, Lieutenant, how did you end up here?”
“Please, call me Eric,” he says with a smile. Oh my God, that smile up close is even more potent. And his eyes…I pull myself together to focus on what he says. “Alcide asked me to join him here.” He leans in and whispers to me, “He was afraid to come alone.”
I snort before taking a sip of my beer. I stare at the man sitting next to Maria, and he does look nervous. “Don’t worry; I’ll make sure Lala scares him real good.” I say with a saucy wink. Oh my God, am I flirting with him? What is wrong with me? My husband hasn’t even been gone a year and I’m flirting with a virtual stranger.
I need to get out of here quickly. I move away from him saying I need to go upstairs to help Lafayette with dinner. I run up the stairs. Lafayette and Jesus are sharing a passionate kiss in the kitchen. “Break it up, bitches! We’ve got work to do, Lala!” I set my beer on the counter and wash my hands in the sink. I dry them off quickly and say, “What do you need me to do, Chef?”
Lafayette and I work well together. He takes the ham out of the oven and the turkey out of the deep-fryer. He places both items on platters so that they can rest before carving into them. I scrub and peel the potatoes. As I cube the potatoes, I throw them into a pot of water. Once, I’m finished, the pot goes on the stove so the potatoes can boil. I move into the refrigerator and pull out the cold side dishes. Lafayette and I set everything up buffet style, which is easiest given the amount of people here. Once the potatoes are completely cooked, I drain the water off and work to make mashed potatoes. As I do that, Lafayette begins carving the ham followed by the turkey.
Jesus comes down the stairs caring a sleepy Hunter in his arms. Hunter is rubbing the sleep from his eyes. Jesus carries him over to me and I kiss my baby on the cheek. “Did you sleep OK?” He nods his head and stretches in Jesus’ arms. “Are you hungry?” Again, he nods. My little boy is just like his momma, not very talkative when he first wakes up.
“Dinner will be ready soon, baby. Go with Jesus and I’ll fix you a plate as soon as I can.” Hunter squirms in Jesus’ arms, indicating he wants to be put down. Once he is down, he runs to the stairs leading down to the basement. His little legs take him down to the basement as fast as he can.
About ten minutes later, Lafayette looks around the kitchen and indicates that everything is ready. He calls down the stairs that it’s time to eat. We hear everyone stomping up the stairs to the kitchen. In all, there are two children and 16 adults here. Everyone complements Lafayette and me on the amount of food present. The kitchen does smell amazing. Before everyone starts serving themselves, Lafayette asks for everyone to be quiet.
“I wants to thank everyone for comin’ today. It means a lot to me and Jesus both that you thought enough of us to want to spend the holiday with us. I want to thank Sookie for making some of the amazing dishes you smell in here. And now, Little Man, it’s time to do what you do.” Lafayette turns to Hunter with a knowing look. I have no idea what Lala is talking about.
Hunter steps up so that he is standing in the middle of all the adults. “Lala asked me to say grace.” Everyone bows their heads as Hunter starts speaking, “God is great. God is good. Let us thank him for this food. Amen.” Everyone murmurs Amen. I scoop Hunter up into my arms and give him a big kiss. Lala comes over to give Hunter a high-five for doing such a good job. I set my son down and move to make him a plate of food. My little man is a good eater, so I give him a bit of everything. I know it’s more than he can eat, but I know he will want to try everything. I set his plate down at the table set up in the sun room. There isn’t enough room in the house for all of us to sit together, so Lafayette has set up the formal dining room, the kitchen table, and the sun room for everyone to eat.
I turn to call Hunter and see him talking to Lieutenant Northman. Whatever Hunter has said, the Lieutenant nods his head in agreement. Hunter comes running over and climbs up into the chair I’ve pulled out. I push his chair in and tell him to begin eating. I grab a juice box from the refrigerator and set it in front of Hunter for his drink.
“Sookie, what can I get you to drink?” Jesus asks me as he pours glasses of wine. I tell him I’ll just take a bottle of water. The two beers I had earlier are about my limit. I don’t like to drink a lot in front of Hunter. Plus, I don’t want to drink and make a fool of myself in front of Lieutenant Northman.
Jesus takes my drink to the table along with drinks for him and Lafayette. I fix myself a plate of food so that I can eat with my son. I move to sit in the chair to his right, but Hunter stops me.
“Don’t sit there, Momma. That seat is saved for someone. Sit here,” Hunter says patting the chair to his left. I shrug my shoulders. I assume he wants Jack to sit with him. Imagine my surprise when Lieutenant Northman sits down next to Hunter.
“I hope you don’t mind, but Hunter asked me to sit with him,” he says in a gruff voice.
I force a smile to my face, “Not at all.” I quickly shove food into my face so I can’t embarrass myself by saying something stupid. We eat in silence for a few minutes. When I look over at Hunter I see that he is only eating the food that Lt. Northman eats. I can’t help it, I start laughing. When he looks at me, I explain. “Hunter is playing the shadow game,” I say with a smile.
“Is that so?” he says with a raised eyebrow. He sticks his fork in a piece of turkey, Hunter does the same. He sticks his fork in the mashed potatoes, Hunter does the same. He eats the turkey and mashed potatoes in one big mouthful. Hunter tries to do the same, but his mouth isn’t big enough. He ends up getting mashed potatoes on his nose. I can’t help laughing again as I wipe off my son’s face.
“Enough games, Hunter. Eat your dinner or else you can’t have dessert later.” I don’t know if it makes me a bad parent, but I’ve found that threatening to take dessert away from my son usually will get him to do what I want. Oh well, whatever works I guess.
As I suspected, Hunter cannot finish his food, but I don’t mind. I don’t want him to get sick. I take his plate and mine into the kitchen. I offer to start cleaning up, but Jesus tells me to go sit down. He says that he will take care of the mess and Maria offers to help him.
I move back down to the basement so that I can watch the rest of the Saints/Cowboys game. The Saints are up on the Cowboys and we still have the fourth quarter to go. I sit at the bar so I can watch Hunter and Jack playing by the pool table but still see the TV.
“He’s a great kid,” Lieutenant Northman says to me as he sits on the bar stool next to me.
I smile softly, “Yes, he is.”
“Did I do something wrong earlier?” he asks me with concern on his face.
“Why would you think that?” Shit, he noticed that I ran away earlier.
“I was afraid I made you uncomfortable. I know we met under really shitty circumstances,” he says quietly so the kids can’t hear the curse word, “but I was hoping we could be friends. I’ve wondered about you and Hunter over the last few months, worried about how you were doing. I know it can’t be easy.” I see pain flash in his eyes, but it is gone quickly. I wonder what caused that look in his eyes.
I nod my head slowly. A slow smile spreads across his face and I swear it’s like watching the sunrise. It is simply breathtaking. I smile in response. We watch the rest of the football game, and of course my Saints crush the Cowboys. After the game we all head back upstairs to get dessert. Eric compliments me profusely on the pumpkin and apple pies I made. After dessert, Hunter passes out in his room. Eric and I continue talking while everyone else watches the third football game of the day. When I yawn for what is like the eighth time in five minutes, I decide it’s time to go home. I say good-night to everyone. I climb wearily up the stairs to the main level. I trudge down the hallway and look at the stairs leading upstairs.
“Stay here, I’ll get him.” Eric is behind me and quickly steps around me to get upstairs. He goes into Hunter’s room, and reappears a moment later with my son in his arms. My heart clenches, because this reminds me so much of nights when Sam carried Hunter to the car.
Eric comes silently down the stairs and we head outside. I open the door and he gently places Hunter in the booster seat. I buckle him in and close the door as softly as possible. Eric has moved over to my door and has it open for me. Such a gentleman.
I climb into the vehicle and strap myself in. I smile at him once I’m settled, “Goodnight, Eric.”
“Goodnight, Sookie.” He closes my door gently and steps back. Once I start the car, I wave at him before driving home.