“Thank fuck that’s over,” I sigh in relief as I put the last of my tools back in the cabinet of my truck. It’s another muggy day in Northern Louisiana. The heat was oppressive at 7 am when we started the job this morning and only became worse as the sun climbed higher in the sky. The humidity is so thick it felt like I was pushing my way through water to finish the deck that I’d been building today. I’d applied tons of sunscreen and bug spray throughout the day, yet I don’t think it made a damn bit of difference. I feel the telltale sting of burnt flesh on my ears and neck, and my arms are itchy from all the bug bites. Why the hell did I agree to help Alcide with this job today? I’d already worked ten days straight thanks to one of my bartenders quitting last week without any notice. The last thing I wanted to do after getting home at 4 am was help my friend put a deck on his house at 7 am.
“Thanks, Eric. I really appreciate you helpin’ me get this done today. Debbie’s been bitching for weeks,” Alcide says wearily as he mops the sweat off his brow with a red bandana. He rests his arms on the top of the tailgate.
“Why the hell didn’t you get one of your crews to do it?” I pull two bottles of water out of the cooler in the bed of my truck. I offer one to Alcide. We both guzzle the cool, refreshing liquid as fast as possible. It’s my sixth bottle today, but I still feel parched.
“Everyone’s booked up. Guys are working six days a week trying to keep up with all the business,” Alcide explains with a shrug.
“I get it, but why the hell did it have to be today? What’s crawled up Debbie’s twat to push you on this?” I pull my shirt off, and then use it as a towel to wipe the excess sweat off my chest and arms. I throw the shirt in the cab of my truck. I lean in, placing the keys in the ignition, and start the truck. I crank the air conditioning up to full blast to cool the inside down and close the door. Even in the shade, the truck is over a hundred degrees.
“She wants to have all our folks over for tomorrow. Wants to have a cook out.”
“Uh huh,” I say sarcastically. My eyes flick to the back of their house. “She wants to rub it in everyone’s face that you guys put in a pool and built a deck.” I shake my head. Debbie and Alcide have been together since high school. I know he loves her, but I can’t tell if she loves him. She sure does love spending his money, though, and rubbing it in everyone’s face that she has more than everyone else. Why the hell they bought a house with six bedrooms is beyond me since it’s only the two of them. I know Debbie has been frantically trying to get pregnant, even before they were married. Every month that passes without a bun in her oven makes her more bitchy. I know Alcide loves her, but I don’t know how he puts up with it.
Alcide growls at me because of my comment about his wife, but he doesn’t deny my statement. “Fuck you, asshole! If you want to know the truth, we plan on telling our folks that Debbie’s finally pregnant,” he says as a wide grin spreads across his face.
I turn to him in surprise. “Seriously? That’s awesome, man!”
“Yeah. I’m kinda nervous that I’ll screw the kid up, but Debbie is so excited. She’s started reading all these baby books and eating all this organic shit. She says everything needs to be natural for the baby. She’s trying to talk me into eating kale and tofu,” Alcide says with a shudder of disgust.
I laugh heartily knowing Alcide is a meat and potatoes kind of guy. He doesn’t do exotic and he certainly doesn’t tofu. “You guys should come out to the bar tonight and celebrate. Does anyone else know?”
Alcide nods and looks sheepish as he runs his hand over his face. “We were waiting to tell the folks first, but Sookie figured it out since Debbie kept running out of the office to go throw up because of morning sickness.
I chuckle knowing firsthand how observant Sookie is. She’s been one of my closest friends since high school. Sookie always knows more than she lets on. A lot of people think she’s a dumb blonde. Underestimating her is why she’s so good as a paralegal; people end up saying a lot of shit in front of her and never think she will put two and two together. If her Gran hadn’t gotten sick while she was in college, I’m pretty sure Sookie would have gone on to law school. Instead, she transferred from LSU in Baton Rouge to LSU in Shreveport and lived at home while finishing up the last three semesters of college. Even now, Sookie lives in the same house as her Gran to make sure she is taken care of. I admire Sookie’s dedication to her family and friends.
She must know I’m thinking about her, because my Samsung starts playing Sookie’s ringtone, “Cherry Pie” by Warrant. It’s a joke that goes back to high school. Is it crass and juvenile that I use this as her ringtone? Yes. Does either of us care? Not really. I smile as I press the button to answer the call.
“Hey good lookin’. What’s cookin’?” Sookie has addressed me for years in this manner, yet I still get a secret thrill at hearing she thinks I look good.
“Hey beautiful,” I utter in a husky tone. “Alcide and I just finished his deck. He told me the good news about him and Debbie.”
“Oh, thank fuck,” she sighs in relief. “I was tired of keeping that secret to myself. It’s hard to be excited for them when I worry that this kid is going to come out like Rosemary’s baby!”
I bark out laughing at Sookie’s declaration. She’s got to deal with Debbie more than I since they work together, so I feel sympathy for Sookie. It’s going to be a long forty weeks that’s for sure. In our circle of friends, no one is really close to Debbie. Her attitude has alienated almost all of us. Sookie is the only one that is even remotely kind to her anymore. Truthfully, I don’t know how Sookie puts up with Debbie. All throughout high school, Debbie kept accusing Sookie of hooking up with Alcide. To this day, Debbie gets suspicious if Alcide and Sookie somehow end up alone together. It’s fucking ridiculous is what it is!
“If that’s true, it will definitely make the baptism an interesting event,” I respond once I can control my laughter.
Alcide glares at me. He growls loudly, “What are you two assholes talking about?”
“Nothing,” Sookie and I respond in unison though Alcide can’t hear her. I smile innocently at him and he flips me the bird in return.
“I was telling him that we should get the crew together tonight to celebrate,” I tell Sookie as I return to our conversation.
“Sounds good to me. I’m sure Jase and Hoyt will be down. Tara and JB probably can’t since the twins have burned all bridges with babysitters since they are in their terrible twos. I can check with Holly and Halleigh, see if they have anything going on,” Sookie rattles off as she goes through our group of friends.
“Sounds good. I’ll text the guys, see what they are up to. You OK with everyone meeting at my bar?” I hate that I have to work tonight, but the new bartender doesn’t start until Tuesday. At least I have Felicia and Clancy there tonight, so I hope I can spend time with my friends instead of being bar back, dishwasher, or whatever the hell else they need help with.
Though I can’t see it, I know Sookie is rolling her eyes. “It’s not hanging out with friends if you are working the whole time, jackass.”
“The first round is on the house,” I counter.
“Yeah, yeah, yeah. See ya around 9.” The call ends without either of us saying good-bye. Sookie used to yell at me all the time about proper phone etiquette, and now she’s usually the one to hang up without saying good-bye. Hypocrite.
I push my phone back in my pocket. I forgot Alcide was still standing here. He looks at me and shakes his head. “When are you two going to hook up? It’s been over ten years. This ‘are they or aren’t they’ shit is for the birds. It’s worse than Ross and Rachel,” he grumbles.
I roll my eyes at him. “It’s not like that, Alcide, and you know it. Sookie and I are just friends.” I climb into the cab of my truck, wanting to go home and nap before heading to the bar around seven.
Alcide shrugs while flippantly rolling his eyes. “Whatever, dick. Even if Debbie doesn’t wanna go out tonight, I’ll stop by for at least a drink.” Alcide walks away from my truck, his hand raised in farewell. I honk the horn of my truck as I pull away.
It’s a ten-minute ride from Alcide’s house to mine. While he lives in one of the newer cookie cutter subdivisions in Shreveport, my house is in an older neighborhood that was primarily built in the 1970s. None of the houses look the same, which is fine by me. I’ve spent the last five years renovating the house. The two reasons I bought the place were because of the privacy since there is a wall of trees between me and my closest neighbor and my house has a basement which is a bonus since most homes in Louisiana don’t have anything below ground level. The inside of the house had to be gutted since it looked like the Brady Bunch house. The combination of yellows, greens, shag carpeting, and wallpaper still gives me nightmares.
Thankfully, Sookie helped me with picking out paint, flooring, and fixtures. She picked up on little details that I never would have thought about. All that time Sookie spent watching Fixer Upper paid off. While it doesn’t look as good as what you see on a TV show, I think it looks damn good. I know Sookie always drools over my kitchen. She says it’s a crime that I have her fantasy kitchen and barely cook. Actually, I think Sookie has cooked and baked more in my kitchen than I have.
The drive to my house is over quickly and I park the truck in the garage next to my Corvette. Walking into the house, I smirk as I drop my keys on the kitchen island, shaking my head as I remember Sookie caressing the marble countertop while whispering sweet nothings to it. Reaching in the refrigerator, I pull out a beer and reach for my bottle opener. I toss the cap in the recycling bin and put the bottle opener back on the side of the fridge. A smile tugs at the corners of my mouth as I look at the bottle opener. It’s in the shape of a flip flop and has St. Pete Beach along the thong of the shoe. Sookie got it for me to remember the trip a bunch of us took Spring Break our final year of college.
Drinking deeply from the bottle I walk to my living room and flip down on the couch. The leather is cool against my overheated skin. As I sit there, my eyes are drawn to the pictures I have scattered among the shelves of my entertainment center. I get up to take a closer look. I laugh out loud as I look at one of all of us at the Juniors vs. Seniors Powder Puff Game from our senior year of high school. Jason, Alcide, Hoyt, and I were dressed as cheerleaders while Sookie, Tara, and Halleigh were dressed in football uniforms. Then there’s one of me with my first car, a piece of shit Chevy Malibu, but I thought I was king of the world since I was the only one to get a car when they turned sixteen. I’m grinning out of the driver’s side window like a lunatic, but Sookie is smiling just as wide in the passenger’s seat. Pictures of us at prom…. high school and college graduations…miscellaneous pictures of all of us hanging out. I take another long drink of my beer as my hand reaches for the most recent picture up there. It’s a few years old, but it was taken the night my bar opened, and all my friends came out to support me. We look so happy and carefree in the picture, probably a little drunk. It was a great night, one of the best in my life. What grabs my attention about this picture is that Sookie is seated on a bar stool and I am behind her with my arms wrapped around her in a tight hug. I look at the other pictures and realize Sookie is in nearly all of them. Not only that, but every picture with both of us has us touching each other in some way.
We’ve never dated; never even came close to hooking up with each other. Sookie is a beautiful girl, both inside and out. All my ex-girlfriends were jealous of my relationship with Sookie. They were too insecure to be comfortable with me hanging around a girl. It didn’t matter if she was in a relationship or single, all my exes were jealous of Sookie. They couldn’t understand why I needed her in my life if I had them. That’s part of the reason why they all got kicked to the curb, well that and they were all bat shit crazy. Why are the hot girls always fucking psycho?
But looking at all these pictures, looking around my house, it suddenly dawns on me that maybe Sookie and I have been floating down the river of denial for years. We’ve always chalked it up to being best friends, but is there something more beneath the surface? I’ve hated every guy she’s ever dated. Is it because I wanted to be the one with Sookie? I know she’s never been a fan of the girls I’ve dated. Plenty of times I can remember Sookie making catty remarks about my exes. Was she jealous? Did she want to be the one with me?
“Snap the fuck out of it,” I yell at myself in anger. “You’re getting yourself all worked up over nothing. Sookie’s just a friend. If something was going to happen between us, it would have been years ago.”
Christ, now I’m talking to myself. I think being in the heat and lack of sleep have scrambled my brain. I need a nap. I chug the rest of my beer, drop it off in the recycling bin, and then head upstairs to get a few hours of sleep before going to work.
“Hey Boss. Don’t you look sexy tonight! Got a hot date?” Felicia winks at me while she restocks the clean glasses that have been delivered from the kitchen. I smirk at her as I walk by to go to my office in the back. There are a few patrons seated at the bar, but that’ll change within the hour. We normally pick up around seven and go strong until last call.
I unlock my office and step inside. There’s a mirror on the back of the door, and I can’t help but look at my appearance. My five-hour nap did wonders to make me feel somewhat human, but it wasn’t enough to completely remove the bags under my eyes. At least I don’t look like I have raccoon eyes anymore. I’d showered but didn’t shave so I’ve got a bit of scruff along my jaw. I need a haircut but haven’t had the time, so I put gel in my hair to keep it from falling into my eyes. From being out in the sun, my skin is tan so my eyes seem to be a light shade of blue and my lips are a deep shade of pink. I’m wearing a fitted light blue button-down short-sleeve shirt unbuttoned to mid chest, showing off my anchor talisman. Completing my outfit are a pair of dark blue jeans that Sookie told me made my ass look good and my favorite pair of Vans.
I smirk at the image in the mirror. I do look damn good. I know all the female customers will be hitting on me tonight.
Probably some of the men too.
But do I have a hot date tonight? That I don’t know. My stomach is twisted in knots thanks to my thoughts before my nap and then the erotic dream I had. I woke with Sookie’s name on my lips and my cock at full mast. It isn’t the first time I dreamed about Sookie, but I can’t ever remember the fantasy being so vivid. I could smell her perfume, taste the sweetness of her lips, and feel the softness of her body pressed against mine. I woke up wanting and needing. Taking care of my erection in the shower may have relieved the most obvious symptom of my dream, but I am still on edge. I want, no, I crave physical intimacy. Am I fixating on Sookie because I haven’t had sex in months? Is she simply a convenient fantasy because she is familiar and available? Or is it something more?
“Get a fucking grip, Northman! You’re letting your imagination run away with you. Sookie is your best friend; that’s it. You are going through a dry spell and you’re projecting your sexual frustration on her. Sookie is just a friend,” I tell myself firmly while staring in the mirror. I see the determination settle on my face and I nod in satisfaction. I turn away from the mirror and take care of the few items waiting for me until I go out to the bar to await the arrival of my friends.
All my friends. Sookie included.