I had to abandon theoretical thinking to get the drink orders right for the Norcross men and women. Sam emerged to work behind the bar, India and I began moving at a faster pace, and gradually everything settled back to normal.
Just as I was about to get off work, Michele and Jason came in together. They were holding hands. From Jason’s smile, it was easy to see what her answer had been.
"Seems like we’re going to be sisters," Michele said in her husky voice, and I gave her a heartfelt hug. I gave Jason an even happier one. I could feel his delight pouring out of his head, and his thoughts weren’t so much coherent as a jumble of pleasure.
"Have you two had time to think about when it’ll be?"
"Nothing stopping us from having it soon," Jason said. "We’ve both been married already, and we don’t go to church much, so there’s no reason to have a church wedding."
I thought that was a pity, but I kept my mouth shut. There was nothing to gain and everything to lose by adding my two cents. They were grown-ups.
"I might need to prepare Cork a little bit," Michele said, smiling. "I don’t think he’ll kick up a fuss over me remarrying, but I do want to break it to him gentle." Michele still worked for her former father-in-law, who seemed to have more regard for Michele than he had for his lazy son.
"So it’ll be soon. I hope that it’s okay if I come?"
"Oh, sure, Sook," Jason said, and hugged me. "We ain’t eloping or anything. We just don’t want a big church thing. We’ll have a party out at the house afterward. Right, honey?" He deferred to Michele.
"Sure," she said. "We’ll fire up our grill, maybe Hoyt can bring his over, too, and we’ll cook whatever anybody brings. And other guests can bring drinks or whatever, vegetables and desserts. That way no one will worry and we’ll all have a good time."
A potluck wedding. That was very practical and low-key. I asked them to let me know what I could bring that would be most helpful. After lots of mutual goodwill had been exchanged, they left, still holding hands and smiling.
India said, "Another one bites the dust. How you feeling about this, Sookie?"
"I like Michele real well. I’m so happy!"
Sam called, "They engaged?"
"Yeah," I called back, a few happy tears in my eyes. Sam was making an effort to sound upbeat, though he was still a little worried about his own romantic situation. Any irritation I’d felt about the Jannalynn episode simply melted away. Sam had been my friend for years, while significant others came and went. I went up to the bar and leaned against it. "Second time around for both of ’em. They’re real good together."
He nodded, accepting my tacit reassurance that I wasn’t going to bring up Jannalynn’s little outburst of jealousy. "Crystal was all wrong for your brother; Michele is all right."
"In a nutshell," I agreed.
Since Holly called in to say her car wouldn’t start but Hoyt was working on it, I was still at Merlotte’s when JB came in about ten minutes later. My friend, the secret stripper, was looking handsome and hearty as always. There’s something about JB, something warm and simple that’s really appealing, especially when added to his nonthreatening good looks. He’s like a great loaf of homemade bread.
"Hey, friend," I said. "What can I get for you?"
"Sookie, I saw you last night." He waited for my big reaction.
"I saw you, too." Just about every inch of him.
"Tara was there," JB told me, as though that would be news. "I saw her as she was leaving."
"Uh-huh," I agreed. "She was."
"Was she mad?"
"She was real surprised," I said cautiously. "Are you seriously telling me you-all have not talked about last night?"
"I got in pretty late," he said. "I slept out on the couch. When I got up this morning, she’d already gone to the store."
"Oh, JB." I shook my head. "Honey, you got to talk to her."
"What can I say? I know I should have told her." He made a hopeless gesture with his hands. "I just couldn’t think of any other way to earn some extra money. Her shop’s not doing so great right now, and I don’t make a lot. We don’t have good insurance. Twins! That’s gonna be a big hospital bill. What if one of ’em’s sick?"
It was so tempting to tell him not to worry about it-but there was every reason for him to be concerned, and it would be patronizing to tell him he didn’t need to be. JB had made a clever move, for JB; he had found a way to use his assets to make extra money. His downfall had been in not informing his wife he was taking off his clothes in front of many other women on a weekly basis.
We talked off and on while JB nursed a beer at the bar. Tactfully, Sam pretended to be so busy that he was deaf to our intermittent conversation. I urged JB to cook something special for Tara that night or to stop off at Wal-Mart and buy her a little bouquet. Maybe he could give her a foot rub and a back massage, anything to make her feel loved and special. "And don’t tell her how big she is!" I said, poking a finger into his chest. "Don’t you dare! You tell her she’s more beautiful than ever now that she’s carrying your children!"
JB looked exactly as though he were going to say, "But that’s not true." He was sure thinking it. He met my eyes and clamped his lips shut.
"Doesn’t make any difference what the truth is, you say she looks great!" I told him. "I know you love her."
JB looked sideways for a minute, testing that statement for its truth value, and then he nodded. "I do love her," he said. Then he smiled. "She completes me," he said proudly. JB loved movies.
"Well, you just complete her right back," I said. "She needs to feel pretty and adored, because she feels big and clumsy and uncomfortable. It’s not easy being pregnant, I hear."
"I’ll try, Sookie. Can I call you if she doesn’t soften up?"
"Yeah, but I know you can work this out, JB. Just be loving and sincere, and she’ll come around."
"I like stripping," he said suddenly, as I was turning away.
"Yeah, I know," I said.
"I knew you would understand." He took a last sip of beer, left Sam a tip, and went to work at the gym in Clarice.
"This must be couples day," India said. "Sam and Jannalynn, Jason and Michele, JB and Tara." The thought didn’t seem to make her particularly happy.
"You still dating Lola?" Though I knew the answer, it was always better to ask.
"Naw. It didn’t work out."
"I’m sorry," I said. "Maybe some day soon the right woman will just walk in the door of the bar, and you’ll be all fixed up."