Welcome back! Here is tonight’s continuation of the story I’d partially written called, The Tree. I’m not exactly sure where this is going to go and it’s been sitting in my ‘book’ file unopened for a while. ((Look at that, I’m the next Eminem)). I digress. Anyway, I hope you like the story so far, and when I get to the end I am going to ask a round of questions and see what YOU the READER thinks I the WRITER should write to conclude the story. So, if you’ve thought about altering a book or writing a book or having a book end the way YOU want it to. Now’s your chance! I hope you like the story thus far as we continue, THE TREE.
That evening, dinner was a chaotic production as Erin made her way in after work. Coming through the hallway, her eyes lit up as Erik turned to see her squeal and rush him. She looked like summertime. Her long blonde hair already had streaks of white in it from being out in the sun. Her long legs were tanned and stood in contrast to the white shorts and white top she wore. She hugged Erik fiercely around the neck and his spirits immediately soared with her presence. His sister had always been his best friend, his other half quite literally given that they were twins, since as far back as he could remember. But the pang of regret lingered a little as he remembered the day he’d paced all of his belongings in the back of his sedan. She’d laughed and ran beside the driver’s window seeing him off and waving as he turned the corner. She didn’t know but as he’d turned off Polk Street onto Mortenview Ave he’d been blinded by emotion and had to pull the car over to catch his breath. He’d never been far away from her before in life.
Yet, now here she was standing with him in the house they’d grown up in and he couldn’t think of anywhere else in the world he’d rather be. As he let go of her she stepped back and looked at him.
“Hey, butthead. Heard you quit your job.” she said with a tilt of her head.
He snorted. “Yeah. So much for the bigshot lawyer thing, huh?”
Her tone had been playful, but her eyes were wary. “You okay?”
“No. Not really. But I will be, how much did mom tell you?”
“She called me as soon as you got this morning saying you were on your way back. I was at work, so I couldn’t answer my phone right away. But I called back after you’d gotten in and gone up for a nap. She said you were pretty upset.” she said quietly stepping off to the side to stand next to him.
He nodded. “Yeah, it’s been a long day. If mom hadn’t come back upstairs to wake me up for dinner, I’d slept through the night.”
“Well, what are you going to do now that your here?”
Erik exhaled slowly. That was the million-dollar question. What now?
“Take some time off, maybe the summer. I’ve got a little bit in savings. Go back to school in the fall. Get my doctorate maybe. Who knows at this point? Right now, I just…” He hesitated and shook his head.
“Hey. Hey.” Erin said bumping his shoulder with hers. “No worries. Don’t stress it. There’s no rush, now. Get settled in, I know Dad was excited to have you home. He’s been missing you pretty bad. Even goes out to sit next to your tree in the evenings.”
Erik felt her words tug at his heart strings again with those words. He looked over into the dining room at his mother setting the plates and his father helping. They were talking among themselves quietly and as his father moved behind her, he must have pinched her butt because she jumped and swatted him with the dishtowel in her hand she’d been using to polish the silverware before she placed them. Erik snorted.
“Could they be any cuter?” he asked. Erin had leaned her head over and shook it.
“Ugh. I know. I could get diabetes just watching them. Speaking of which, whatever happened to Sam? Shawn?”
“Shane. We split six months ago. What about you, heard you got a new man.” he said changing the subject.
“Jason? Yeah. We’ve been dating for about six months. Sweet guy, you’d like him. Works at the Ford Plant in Dearborn. He’ll be coming by later, if you don’t mind. I can’t figure it out. Dad is absolutely over the moon for him and so is mom.”
She nodded an affirmative with a look in her eyes that said, “Oh hell yes” and he grinned.
“Come on, you two.” his mother called from the dining room. They made their way into the dining room and took their places next to each other with mom and dad at the heads of the table. Before they ate his father reached over and grabbed Erik’s hand.
“Your mom and I are glad your home, son.” he said looking Erik dead in the eye. “You take whatever time you need; you understand?”
Erik nodded. “Yessir,”
His mom spoke next, “We mean that, son. Sometimes you just have to know when to back off.”
Erin, sensing probably sensing his immediate distress at his parent’s kind words spoke next. Her tone quite serious. “Yes, and I promise not to hook you up with any guy I think you should be in a relationship for the long term. You need a couple drunken mistakes.”
His father cleared his throat, their mother made a disgusted sound, and Erik burst into embarrassed laughter. It was good to be home. He ate so much his belly became as full as his heart.
Afterward, once the dishes were done, Erik and Erin retired to the enclosed back porch with a glass of Jack and Coke and she with a Jack and Ginger. The warm night was quite save for the crickets that were out playing their evening lullaby. The smell of freshly cut grass and dew combined with a scented candle that burned in front of them, was carried on the breeze coming in from the open windows. As they sat there next to each other, they stared out of the windows as the fan spun lazily overhead, they chatted about her job as she regaled him with some of the funnier things she’d seen.
“…they just drop their pants. It’s like ‘No. I asked for a hip’, and then they look over their shoulder and just smile.”
Erik didn’t know if it was the stories or the stress, either way he was cracking up.
“Are you for real?” he asked her while she was taking a sip. She nodded emphatically.
“Uh, yeah, I didn’t know butts came in all those sizes and colors or could droop that low. I swear, the older they are, the more likely them trousers are gonna hit the dirt.”
Erik was leaning over he was laughing so hard.
“That’s not even the funny story. I had this big ass lumberjack looking dude come in. Construction worker, right? I’d just sent out a little girl who’d gotten her booster shots for school. Well this guy came lumbering in, had to have been at least six four, six five. Big ol’ bruiser. Anyway…, “she set her glass down and turned to face Erik “…he comes in with a swagger and his hand wrapped in a rag, blood red. Son of a bitch is bleeding all over the place, right.”
“Well, doc comes in, takes a look at it. He gashed the shit out of his finger…his FINGER with a saw. Needs stitches. Doc asks him how long it’s been since he’d had a tetanus shot. He can’t remember. So, doc says, you need a shot. I go to the cabinet, get the syringe, fill it up and ask him for a hip. He turns his head from the doctor, sees the needle in my hand, turns white as a sheet, and BOOM!” she claps her hand together.
“Passed smooth out. Down for the count. Mind you, he just ate half his finger with a saw and a little girl walked out having received a whole round of boosters.” she said laughing and shaking her head.
Erik laughed and took another drink in time to hear the backdoor open and turn his head. A very handsome, very tall man stepped out into the dim light with a tentative smile on his face. Erin set her drink down and stood up, walking around Erik to hug the man who’d come in. Erik stood too. He was dressed in his work uniform with the word FORD written in white lettering over his left breast pocket. As they broke their hug, the man thrust his hand out and Erik took it in his and gave it a firm shake.
“Jason, this is Erik. Erik, Jason.” Erin said, wrapping her arm around the man. Erik stole a glance at his sister and saw something in her eyes he’d never seen before. She was in love. He could see it by the way she looked at tall, dark, and All American.
“Pleased to meet you. Erin has told me so much about you.”
“Likewise. Come on in, we’ve got plenty of room.” Erik said letting go of his hand and gesturing around to another chair.
“Sure thing.” he said then hesitated. “Uh your mom said she was gonna…”
He stopped short as the back door opened up again and a plate was stuck through with a heaping of lasagna on it. He took it with a smile and Erik gave a ‘wtf’ glance toward his sister. She mouthed the words, “I know!” with exaggeratedly large eyes. They both managed to rearrange their face before Jason noticed.
“Thank you Mrs. Rhodes.” he said beaming in pleasure.
“Uh huh!” was all his mother responded with before she shut the door to keep the cool air inside.
Erik opted to move over to the individual wicker chair to let them sit next to each other on the sofa. Jason dug into his meal with earnest. Leaving them both to stare at him in wonder as he wolfed down his plate. At a couple of bites Erik was going to interject upon him the virtues of chewing but figured, hey…what the hell. Erin would probably start CPR while his mom and dad waited to help out. Erik rolled his eyes at the thought.
After he finished his plate, Erin handed her glass over to him and he took a long drink before handing it back to her. “Thanks, hon.”
“Your welcome. How was your day?”
“Good, actually. They started up the new line for the Fusion this month so, I’ll be getting off of twelves. Thank God.” he said taking her hand. He leaned in to kiss her cheek before turning his attention to Erik.
“So, you’re a lawyer.” he said. God he was handsome. His brown hair was cut sort of shaggy but it was swept back from his face. His jaw was square and he had a five o’clock shadow that made him look a bit mysterious.
“I am?” Erik asked. Suddenly his brain had checked out.
“Yes, you are. He’s a lawyer.” Erin countered and rolled her eyes. “He’s also short on the pick-up.”
“Hey, not since this morning.” Erik countered and looked back at Jason. “I was a lawyer.” The fog cleared as he felt a blush creep up his neck after having been busted by his sister for checking out her man. Poor Jason looked between them confused.
“Erik quit his job this morning.” she responded.
“Oh? I’m sorry to hear that.” His tone genuine. But he still looked a bit confused. Poor boy.
“Yeah, me too. It’s a long complicated story.”
“Erik defended a crazy lady who beat her sister in law to death with a crowbar. Wasn’t her fault, the state took her off her meds. It’s Texas, so they’re gonna kill her.” Erin said.
“…or maybe not.” Erik said wide eyed.
“Oh my God. Was she a schizophrenic?” Jason asked sitting forward. Erik was still sort of put off by his sisters Cliff’s notes version of events but he managed to nod.
“One of these day’s they’ll grant parity to mental health as they do physical health. With all these vets coming home, that doesn’t bode well.”
Erik’s irritation at his sister dissipated as he leaned forward. “You know mental health?”
“Oh, yeah, I studied psychology at U of M. I graduated Suma Cum Lade. “He said nonchalantly. “I only went to work at the plants when I figure there was no way I could pay back student loans on what I’d make as a clinician with a master’s degree.”
Erin beamed next to him and took his hand. He wrapped his large hands around hers and squeezed.
Heh, no wonder mom and dad like him so much. He can spell his own name. Erik snorted. Which was more that she could say for all the other men she brought home.
Erin shot him a look as if she knew what he as thinking. He just smiled at her. It was true, she usually had bad taste in men. This guy though…. what a peach.
“I totally understand what you mean. That’s why I headed south to practice law.” Erik said with a grin.
“No doubt. Yeah, I would have had to go on to my PhD and then, the student loans would have been beyond ridiculous. So my dad got me in at his plant and my time in school got me seniority, so. Fuck it.” he said sitting back.
“I feel ya. To mental health and post-secondary education.” Erik said raising his glass. He took a couple of swallows, the liquor went down easy, before he set the glass back down and sat back in his chair himself. Erin looked between the two and stood up with her own glass before making her way over to her brother.
“Refill?” she asked extending her hand. Erik nodded and handed his over. She turned and walked toward the door.
“No flirting with my man.” she said as she made her way into the kitchen.
“No promises!” he yelled at her before the backdoor shut.
Jason laughed and Erik smiled at him. “To be honest, this is the first I’m hearing of you. Not that Erin kept you from me, but, that case consumed my life for the better part of a year. We hadn’t had much of a chance to talk to each other.”
“Ah, no worries. She and I met when I had to go for a checkup and to get my flu shot for the fall.”
Erik snorted a giggle, remembering their conversation from earlier but quickly masked it as a cough. He silently begged his brain not to take the thought any further.
“Oh, right on. Have you been dating long?”
“About six months. I really like her. And she’s told me so much about you. She goes on and on about how smart you are. When she called this afternoon to tell me she’d be her because you were coming home, she was upset. She was worried about you.” he said gently. Erik about melted in his chair. WHAT A FREAKING PEACH!
“Yeah, it’s just…life ya know? One minute you’re the windshield….”
“…the next you’re the bug.” he finished and grinned.
“So Erin told you all about me huh?” Erik said arching an eyebrow.
“The gay thing? Sure. My brother’s gay. I’m cool. He’s a pretty cool cat.”
He was halfway through the sentence when Erin reemerged balancing three glasses. “Who’s a cool cat?”
“OH! I didn’t even think about that. Yes, his brother is awesome. Super sweet guy.” she said handing off one of the drinks to Jason and then making her way over to Erik.
“Oh yeah?” he said taking the drink. He gave his sister ‘the look’ which said, ‘don’t set me up with five miles of bad road.’ She saw it and winked at him before returning to her seat.
“Yeah, speaking of mental health. He’s a counselor at the V.A. Works with returning vets.”
“Psychology runs in the family then?” Erik said taking a sip. She made it strong and he could taste the Bourbon.
“Sort of. He’s ex-military. Saw combat. So, the work is both therapeutic for him as well as it is for those he works with. But he’s pretty awesome. I think you’d like him.”
Erik was about to ask where he’d been but Erin interrupted.
“So, what did you boys talk about while I was away, besides, Noah, I mean.” She said batting her eyes at Jason.
“Nothin’ nosey rosey.” Erik said. Erin turned and stuck her tongue out at him.
“Yeah, babe. He just wanted to know how we meet. Told him it was at the doctor’s office when I came in for my flu shot.”
Erin and Erik looked at each other briefly before bursting into laughter.
Jason looked at them confused.