***Chapter Six***
Word Count: 7,628

John kissed the top of Holly's head before sitting on the couch nearest to the chair Claire was sitting on. He took a sip of his beer and closed his eyes for a second, glad to be sitting down and home. He'd been gone since before six o'clock that morning so it had been a very long day.

"Why are you home so late?" Claire asked.

It was almost nine o'clock, which meant he'd missed Mark's bedtime completely. He'd get barely enough time to say good night to Amy and David. Holly. Well, he had no idea what time she actually turned her light off and went to sleep most nights. She was in her room, quiet (usually reading), and she was a good student with good grades so he couldn't really get after her for following a bedtime.

Sometimes she was on the phone, but he'd broken down and let Claire talk him into her having her own line this year so she never bothered anyone. The steadfast rule was no waking up the younger kids, which she was better about adhering to now. When Amy and David came onto the scene she'd had some issues. It was an adjustment for all of them really, but mostly Holly. When they'd built this house they'd designed it so Holly's room was set away a bit from the younger kids' rooms. Hers was a little bigger, too. It was almost like a second master bedroom. She even had her own bathroom where David and Mark had to share one. Amy had her own, too, essentially because the room her bathroom was shared with was Claire's home office. By the time Amy was old enough to get jealous of the fact Holly had the really cool bedroom, Holly would likely be long gone. John hated thinking like that, but he knew it was coming sooner than he liked to think about.

"Well, I'm not exactly sure."

"Okay," Claire said cautiously.

She sounded and looked confused. John could understand that look because he was sort of confused himself. Dawson in the years he'd known him had never put a woman – or anyone – before work. He'd noticed he'd had a hickey this morning, but had just assumed it was from his going out Saturday night or something. He certainly hadn't entertained the notion it was from the chick with the Formula until seeing her tonight with one, too.

"Well, we went to look at some cars."

"Right."

She knew that part of things. He'd told her before he left in the morning that he was planning to do that after work with Dawson. The weather was nice, you could spit and find a car show this time of year. Finding decent cars wasn't as easy because anyone and everyone who thought they had a decent car came out of the woodwork.

"He had me drive separate from him. Told me he had something he had to do afterward that he didn't want to have to drive back to the garage."

"Okay," she said. That also wasn't completely unusual. Dawson didn't live far from their garage, but it wasn't right next door. So if he had something to do in his neighborhood or something it made sense for John to go in his own vehicle.

"That chick…"

"John," she said cautiously, glancing at Holly.

He sighed. Evidently chick was a bad word to say in front of his daughter. Who knew? Holly had certainly heard him say worse over the years, especially when she'd been at the garage with him watching him work.

"The woman with the Formula was there."

"The one that gave him her phone number?"

"Yeah."

"I thought he didn't call her."

"He didn't that I knew of. She showed up that second time Friday right as I was about to leave. I told you that."

"Yes."

"That's all I know about it."

"Okay."

"She was there tonight."

"Really?"

"Yes," he said.

"So, wait. I can't go to those things with you because he thinks I'd interfere with getting your work done, but he can bring a date?"

"He's never said you'd interfere with getting my work done."

"John!"

"Okay. Maybe years ago he said that. What you look at in cars and what we look at in cars. Well, it's very different. You look at ones you want to drive. We look at ones we want to fix so we can sell them to other people who want to drive them."

"I know."

He took a sip of his beer, glad she understood that.

"Plus, you know, taking the kids everywhere is kind of a hassle when we just want to get our work done."

"Dad!" Holly said. So, evidently she was paying attention. He hadn't thought she was. She was reading a book. Then she was always reading.

"Well, of course you weren't!"

She and Claire both scoffed at that. Neither of them had any idea how much he'd liked bringing Holly to things with him when she'd gotten old enough to want to go with him. At fourteen she knew more about cars than most people and had for years. Anytime in their own garage he was working on one of the cars she'd come out to watch and help him. She'd asked him questions about this and that from the time she'd started school.

He loved all of his kids, but maybe it was because of what they'd gone through to get to the point of her being his kid and living with him. Maybe it was because of what she'd been through to this point with her mother. Perhaps it was just because she was the oldest. He wasn't sure, but she owned a piece of his heart he was pretty sure even Claire couldn't touch.

She'd turned out all right despite the odds, and the odds had been pretty stacked against her in the beginning. So the fact that she was sitting here on their couch, reading, about to finish another pretty much straight A school year, have decent friends, and she wasn't even remotely bordering on being a criminal or druggie. Well, he loved her more than words could describe for sticking with him, believing in him when she probably had no real reason to.

"It's true! When it was just you, you were fine. You followed my instructions pretty well for the most part even when you were little. Sometimes I had no choice but to bring you with me to those things or to work because of Claire's school schedule. Dawson understood that. Now, though. It just gets kind of crowded and busy when all Dawson and I want to do is go there, look at cars, buy something, and leave. David especially wants to look at everything, which I'm not complaining about. We just work better when it's the two of us."

"I'm still wrapping my mind around the fact he brought a date to one of those things."

"He didn't! She was just there."

"By chance?"

"That's what it looked like. They both seemed genuinely surprised to see the other one there."

"Oh," Claire said.

"Yeah, she was with some guys, one of them was the owner of a Mustang I thought looked promising."

"Huh," Claire said and John could imagine what she was thinking. The chick had given Dawson her number but then was somewhere else with two different guys.

"I don't think it was like that," John said.

"It's none of my business," Claire said with a shrug.

"Yeah, but I can see the wheels turning in there. I didn't get that impression about any of them. They were just there together."

Holly was looking at them as if they were speaking another language. They did that a lot, knew what the other was trying to say without having to say it. It worked well when Holly was around and there were things he maybe couldn't say because of her. Lord knew Claire never had inappropriate things to talk about.

"If you say so."

"He kissed her."

"Wait. What? Really?" Claire asked then, sounding more interested in this story than she had a minute ago.

"Yeah. Then he told me to take care of the car we were looking at that belonged to her friend and left with her."

"Weird," Claire said.

"I know. It was. I thought I was hearing things, because partner or not he's the one who usually writes the checks."

"So, what kind of kiss?"

"I don't know. Just a kiss. You know? Like he was happy to see her? The kind I gave you when you would stop at work and surprise me with lunch that summer you were home from school and we'd just started dating."

She blushed softly at that and he chuckled.

"We're talking kisses, Princess," he said.

"I know," she said. She stood then, taking her glass with her to the kitchen.

"I miss those lunches you used to bring me, by the way," he said.

"I bet you do. In a couple of years Holly can bring you lunch when she's on break."

"I'm not sure I look forward to that or not," John said.

It wasn't the same thing at all, and Claire knew that, too. Lunch with Holly wasn't going to turn into sex as it had for them so many times that first summer. Living together sort of stopped that from happening so much, but it still did once in a while until they had David.

"Stop thinking about that," she said, coming back with her glass full of some more wine and another beer for him.

"I'm not thinking anything!"

"You can't lie to me, John."

"Sue me."

"Yeah, yeah."

"See, you're the lawyer, obviously if I was doing something real wrong you'd do something to stop me."

She rolled her eyes, taking a sip of her wine.

"So, what's her name?"

"I don't know."

"John! How can you not know that?"

"When in the hell was I supposed to ask him that? I was too shocked to see him choose a woman over work."

"So, you don't know anything about her?"

"No, other than the kind of car she drives, she's pretty, and she's young. I think she lives nearby maybe. I remember when her car got towed Dawson asked me if we knew her because it was towed to the garage from Evanston."

"Oh," Claire said. "And he just left with her."

"Yes. The one guy she'd been with didn't seem too happy about that. Listening to the two guys talk afterward, though, I got the impression one was her brother. The one not too happy, especially because she…" John paused, glancing at Holly.

"She?" Claire asked.

John shrugged, brushing the back of his hand along his neck. He cleared his throat softly as he gestured to Holly. "You know?"

"Oh," Claire said, seeming to understand. "Really?"

"Yup. Him, too. I noticed this morning, just assumed," John shrugged. "You know. It's Dawson!" Dawson coming to work with random hickeys on his neck after the weekend wasn't an uncommon occurrence.

"Huh. And she really seems to like him?"

"I guess. I mean, she gave him her number, she came back to the garage when he didn't call her. She said she heard a noise in her car, but Dawson fixed it himself so I'm not so sure that wasn't just an excuse to try again. Tyler or Damian I could buy that about, but not him on that car. At the very least she thought he was someone worth driving all that way for."

"And she's young?"

"Well, she's not sixteen. I mean, she's legal and everything, but I don't get the impression she's much older than legally able to drink if she's even that. I didn't ask, mind you. I'm just guessing. I'm not a good judge of age, you know that. I see some of the kids that go to the high school Holly's going to next year and am not sure they're really students there."

Holly got up from the couch then and went to her room, closing the door behind her. She didn't slam it, but John could tell she wasn't happy.

"Was I talking too loud or something?" John asked?

He didn't think he was, but who knew what set her off. She got into a zone sometimes when she was reading. He, of course, couldn't understand her wanting to read when there was no homework due to it being the last week of school. He'd come to understand that despite who her parents were she'd gotten studious genes somehow. Claire had played a significant role in that because she'd been the one with Holly when she came home from school at first while John was putting himself through school and working. Granted, there hadn't been a whole lot of homework in Kindergarten and first grade, but the habits of doing whatever school work she did have before anything else had been instilled in her by Claire from the get-go.

"No," Claire said, glancing the way Holly had gone.

"Is everything okay?"

"Yes," she said.

"Okay. She have a bad day or something?"

"No! I don't know," Claire said with a shrug.

"All right."

"So, what kind of woman…"

"Don't! Don't do that. Just because you wouldn't hook up with some guy you barely know doesn't mean those that do are bad people. She seemed," John shrugged. "Nice. I don't know. Not like I talked with her or anything beyond the basics when she came to the garage. She wasn't dressed like a slut or anything."

"John!"

"She's four! She's coloring not paying any attention to us. Give me a break!"

"You still shouldn't!"

"Yeah, I know yet despite all that Holly turned out okay. I'm not a watch my mouth type of guy, Princess. You knew that. I try, I do, but I didn't swear so cut me some slack."

Holly had learned some very colorful words at a pretty young age listening to her dad work on cars. She'd never gotten in trouble at school for cussing at anyone so John took that to mean she'd understood that those were words she couldn't repeat.

"Where's David?"

He wasn't sure what it said that he just now noticed David wasn't inside already. Their neighborhood was full of kids of all ages so there was always something for the kids to do with other kids. It was a little late for David to be outside playing a game of catch, though. He just realized what time it was he guessed.

"He's spending the night at Max's. I know it's a school night, but his mom assured me she'd get David to school with Max and that they went to sleep at a decent hour."

"All right. I'm not sure why you're justifying your decision to me. I'm not going to get mad as long as you know where he is and thought it was reasonable," he said.

Max was David's best friend. They were in little league, swimming, and Tae Kwon Do together. Claire believed in keeping kids busy. They could afford the stuff so he couldn't complain too much even if it seemed some nights during the school year she got very little sleep. He tried to help when he could, but he didn't work for his dad so he didn't have the luxury of getting done at five o'clock every day. Or being able to get to work early and leave thirty minutes early because the kids had some practice or game. Dawson was flexible within reason, but every day of the week. No.

Holly still did dance lessons and played soccer and softball. She was also a very good golfer. Like real good. The golf pro at Claire's golf club had mentioned more than once her looking into scholarships at college for it. He wasn't sure how many colleges offered golf scholarships and he didn't think money for her to go to college was going to be an issue. However, a scholarship wouldn't be a bad deal if she was that good and wanted to do that.

Amy was doing dance and would start piano lessons next year when she turned five. Probably because of Holly, wanting to be like her big sister Amy loved dancing. She'd been ready for dance lessons before Claire had even thought about putting her into them.

He offered Claire his hand, which she took as she stood and met him at the couch. She slid onto his lap and kissed him. Really kissed him, which still to this day had him reacting in a way he probably shouldn't have knowing their daughter was sitting on the floor coloring a couple of feet away.

"I was thinking," she whispered against his ear, kissing it.

"Yeah?" he asked. He loved when she got thoughts and needed to whisper them to him. That meant very good things for him.

She kissed his neck then, nipping at the skin a bit.

"It has been a while since I've done that."

"That's what you were thinking about? Really? You have to whisper about that?"

"I do when I want to do it while sitting on you like this only without clothes on," she said.

"Well, all right then. What exactly are we waiting for?"

"I have to put Amy to bed."

"I imagine Holly could do that…"

"I'll do it," she said.

"Is there something you're not telling me? Did she get in trouble or something?"

"No," she said, but John sensed she wasn't being completely honest with him. He couldn't pry it out of her. It was probably one of those mother-daughter things he'd never understand. "She'll be fine."

"Okay," he said.

"So, meet you in our room in about ten minutes?"

He chuckled softly. "As if I have any better offers than that to hold me up?"

"Well, you might…"

"No. Never."

"Do you think they…?"

"Uh, I don't know. I didn't ask. I might tomorrow, though."

"Be nice," she whispered, kissing his ear before standing up.

"Nice? Oh come on, like he didn't give me crap about you…"

"I know. That doesn't mean you can't be nice."

"We're guys. I'll be as nice as I need to be. You do remember he asked you out, right? And called you even knowing I'd gone out with you."

"I remember," she said. "You also have to work with him."

"I could quit! I don't need to work there. You and I both know that, he does too. I stay because he's made it appealing to stay. He knows I'm not overly fond of change so he takes advantage of that fact. He's been fair and I try to remember that."

"John. It's a woman. One who apparently pursued him. Be careful."

"Yeah, yeah. If he dissolves our partnership because I give him shit about a hickey then he's not the man I thought he was and wouldn't want to be his partner anymore anyway. And. Hey, wait. You pursued me."

"I did not," she said, kneeling on the floor to help Amy put her coloring equipment away for the night.

"Uh huh. You keep telling yourself that. Showing up at the garage twice in a week. The first time I could believe wasn't out of interest. New Year's Eve, though. That was because you wanted me."

She scoffed, but didn't deny it he noticed. "Even still, look where that got you."

He chuckled. "You make it sound like a bad thing where I'm at."

"I'm glad you think otherwise."

"Only because I have you, Princess. You make me think otherwise every day."

"Say stuff like that in a little bit and I might be tempted to leave more than one."

"So long as I don't look like a leopard when we're done I'll say whatever you want me to say."

"I like leopards."

He chuckled softly at that and stood from the couch then. He brought his empty beer can and Claire's wine glass to the kitchen, ensuring everything was locked up for the night before heading upstairs. He stopped at Holly's door while Claire was putting Amy to bed.

"Yeah," she said.

"Everything all right?"

"Yes," she said. She didn't look too all right, though. She looked maybe as if she'd been crying. Huh.

"You sure?"

"Yeah."

"Because if there's something wrong you could tell me, you know that."

"I know."

"Bad day at school?"

"No," she said, though he knew she was ready for the end of the year. Every kid reacted differently to going to high school. Holly was ready and excited.

"All right," he said with a soft sigh. He couldn't make her tell him what was wrong. She wasn't a crier, though, so that told him something was bothering her. She'd seemed fine when he got home. Quiet and into her book, but that wasn't unusual. "We're going to bed."

It was super early for them to go to bed and Holly was aware of that fact. Sometimes they went to their room to watch TV before bed if Holly was in the family room watching something. That wasn't the case tonight.

"Okay," she said, closing her door behind her.

"Did I do something wrong I don't know about?" John asked Claire once she'd joined him in their bedroom.

"No, why?"

"I don't know. Holly looked like she'd been crying but she wouldn't tell me what's wrong."

"She's fine, John. She's a fourteen year old girl. They cry sometimes and don't want to tell their parents why."

"Did you?"

"Yes!"

"Really?" He found that hard to believe for some reason. What on earth could she have had to cry about when she was fourteen? Running out of mascara?

"It's not easy. You feel all of these things and are going through all of these changes. She's going to a new school next year, which I know she's ready but it's still a huge change. She's just growing up, John. She's not mad at you."

"Is there a guy I need to go put the fear of God into for hurting her?"

"No! I'd have told you if she liked someone. There's no boy. She's not mad at you."

He was relieved to hear that. He and Holly had certainly had their share of arguments over the years, but she'd never gone to bed mad at him that he was aware of. He certainly didn't want to start that trend tonight.

"Why are you looking at me like that?" she asked.

"Like what? Like I want you?"

"No," she said.

"Oh, I don't know. I admit I've thought it might be kind of fun…"

"No!"

"I just said thought."

"No! We agreed that what we had by the time we're thirty was it."

"I know."

"Now if you want to pretend that's what we're doing."

"Princess, you have no idea how much I love the idea of pretending that's what we're doing every second of every day."

"Well then," she said.

"You're all the way over there!"

***

"Hey, someone decided to remember the garage was open on a day of the week that has a Y in it," John said when Dawson finally showed up. In the years he'd been working here he could count on one hand how many times Dawson had been late without warning beforehand like a dentist appointment or something.

"Shut up, John," Dawson said, but he didn't look upset at him so he knew John was teasing. That was good. Despite talking big to Claire last night he wasn't in the mood to go out looking for a new job right now.

Pablo was very glad to see Dawson. They'd toyed with getting a dog before Pablo had come onto the scene, but never done it. Dogs were work, especially ones that weren't housebroken. Pablo had sort of fallen into Dawson's lap and John couldn't deny it was a good thing to have him here. Dawson could have brought him home with him every night, made a pet out of him he supposed. John thought the dog liked being here. Of course he knew very little about dogs. They had cats. The schedules they kept, both he and Claire working downtown a dog just wasn't practical. There was no question, though, who Pablo belonged to.

"So, who died?" Pruitt asked Dawson.

"No one. I was late."

"You're never late," Pruitt said. John was glad he was the one saying that.

"He left the car show in Cicero early last night, too," John offered.

"Okay, so no one died. What's wrong with you then?" Pruitt asked. John couldn't help but chuckle.

"He left with the chick with the Formula."

"He brought her with you guys?"

"No, she was just there," John said.

"Really? She drives that car and goes to car shows?" Pruitt asked.

"I know, right. It's like a dream come-true for Dawson," John said.

"Really? This is the best you can come up with doing this morning?" Dawson asked.

"There's another hickey on his neck this morning."

"You have a couple, too, I noticed," Dawson said. "Please tell me there's not going to be another Bender offspring nine months from now."

"No, there's not. I guess I should ask to be sure you know how to prevent those. I realize it's been a while for you and everything. You need Pruitt or me to go to the store with you and help you pick some out?"

"Excuse me," Dawson asked. "I don't need your help. It hasn't been that long!"

John chuckled then. "I'm just giving you shit. So, who is she? How did you end up comfortable enough to want to kiss her at a car show? Because when I left here on Friday it didn't seem as though she was here for a date."

"She came here on Friday?" Pruitt asked.

"Yes," Dawson said.

"Said she heard a noise in her car," John said.

"Is that why you were gone so early?" Pruitt asked.

"We had dinner!" Dawson said. "She showed up. I asked her if she'd left her phone number on that receipt on purpose. She answered she had. So, I asked her to get something to eat at the diner down the street."

"That was where you took her?" Pruitt asked. "And she saw you again?"

"She came back Saturday for lunch. Yes. Why am I justifying my actions to you?"

"Because she doesn't strike me as the type to want to frequent that diner, Dawson," Pruitt said. John couldn't disagree with him. If she was going to school at Northwestern and driving that car she clearly wasn't hurting for cash. Even if it was her parents' cash.

"Her name's Sara, and I don't know that I have to account to you the where and why behind my wanting to kiss someone."

"No, but…"

"She's a little young, don't you think," Pruitt said.

Dawson sighed. "She's twenty-one."

"That wasn't my question. That's a pretty big age gap."

"I didn't give her my phone number, she did," he said. "She came back here! I didn't hunt her down."

"Well, still…"

"So, were you late because you had to take her home this morning?"

"She lives with her parents so I couldn't keep her out all night. It was about two I think when I got her there, though."

"Really?" John asked surprised.

Dawson didn't snub his nose at going out weekends and closing bars down, but he was pretty steadfast about being home and in bed before midnight weeknights. He was what most would call a workaholic. It drove Claire batty at times over the years, but he imagined she'd rather know John was out somewhere with Dawson at a car show or something than getting into trouble elsewhere. Because as much as he loved Claire and she loved him they couldn't spend every second of every day together.

"Yes, really."

"So. She lives out by us then?" he asked.

"No, she goes to school at Northwestern. She lives out in Oak Park with her parents. Her brother's out there, too."

"That was her brother last night?"

"Yeah, one of them was she said."

"Not the red headed kid obviously," John said.

"No, that's his friend. At least that's the impression I got anyway."

"He really didn't seem to like the idea of her leaving with you," John said.

"Who would?" Dawson asked with a shrug.

"What?" Dawson asked at Pruitt's scowl.

"Nothing," the tow truck driver said.

He was thinking something, though. John could tell. He wasn't as good of friends with Pruitt as Dawson was, but he knew when the old man was thinking. "Time to get to work for me. Bye Pablo," he said, scratching behind the dog's ear with the end of his hook. John shook his head because the dog loved when the old man did that. He supposed to a dog with an itch it probably felt good.

"You sure?" Dawson asked.

"Yup. Just something rattling around in this head of mine. I'm sure it's nothing," he said.

John wasn't sure the driver spoke the truth though about nothing bothering him. He didn't have a hugely good poker face and even John could tell he'd been thinking something as he and Dawson had been talking.

"So, are you going to see her again?"

"Fuck. Since when are you so interested in my personal life?"

"Since you have a woman who looks like that, driving a car like that hitting on you."

"It is a nice car," Dawson said and John chuckled softly at that.

"Yeah, all right. If that's what you want to focus on."

"You didn't get in trouble for getting home later than usual last night, did you?"

"No, Claire knew I'd be late."

"Good," Dawson said. "All right. Are we done gossiping? Can I get to work now?"

"Tyler and Damian are working out there just fine."

"We have that Mustang you bought last night to look at, don't we?"

"We do," John agreed.

"Well, let's get to work."

"I've been working for over two hours now. I don't know what you did with your morning."

"I slept through my alarm."

John chuckled softly at that. "Words I swore I'd never hear come from your mouth ever."

"You're a laugh a minute, John."

"I know."

"So, I know why I have the hickeys," Dawson said as they walked out to the garage together. "Why do you?"

"Why do I? What kind of question is that?"

"You've been together for years. Getting laid regularly in there I presume based on the mouths you're feeding. So why does she need to leave you hickeys? Aren't the kids physical enough proof you have sex?"

"Very nice," John said. He shrugged. "I don't know. It's not like she does it every night or anything."

"You have sex every night?"

"I am absolutely not answering questions about the frequency in which Claire and I have sex."

"Why not?"

"I don't want to make you envious," John said. "You know, you'd feel the need to compete and probably throw your back out or something, especially with someone her age. You sure you can manage keeping up with her?"

Dawson shook his head. "I think I can, yes."

"When was the last time you saw two in the morning during the week, Dawson?"

"I can't remember."

John chuckled. "Come talk to me about managing when it becomes more frequent."

"When did you know Claire was into you?"

"I don't know. When did I know for certain? I guess when I drove to Iowa to see her. Before then I really didn't know for sure. I thought she was, but I was pretty hung up on the differences between us to think she could really do it. Her not calling me ever was pretty confusing, too. Throw you being interested in her into the mix. Not to mention Holly. It took me a while to be convinced."

"Right."

"Why?"

Dawson shrugged, glancing at Tyler and Damian who weren't paying them any attention. They rarely did. They collected their paychecks regardless of how fast or slow Dawson and John got their work done. They weren't overflowing with business this morning either.

"I don't know. I swear on Saturday she was ready to leave, blow off lunch with me and get out of here. We had a decent enough time at dinner Friday night. We talked. I didn't accost her, though I did kiss her good night. I offered to go someplace else with her and she said she had to get home."

"Huh, so the offer was made Friday and she said no."

"Right. I called her about thirty minutes after I got home to be sure she got home all right. She admitted she hadn't really heard a noise in her car, but I still felt better calling to be sure she got home after being down here."

"Right. I would've done the same thing. The few times Holly's taken the train and a bus down here or home from here I've made sure she's called me to tell me she's leaving the house or gotten to the house."

"She showed up on Saturday. We were talking. I don't know. She asked about Pablo."

"You told her how you got Pablo?"

"Yes. I have nothing to hide."

"No, you don't, but girls from Oak Park who go to school at Northwestern probably don't have much experience with drug dealers setting up shop down the street from them."

"I guess not. What was I supposed to do? Lie?"

"I don't know. I guess I maybe would've given an abbreviated version, or a very slight version."

"Maybe that's what it was. I don't know. I even offered to take her back to the train station. That's how sure I was she wanted to leave. Then we were in the office. She saw the pictures of your kids and asked me more questions."

"Okay."

"And then she," Dawson cleared his throat and shrugged.

"Here? Really? Your first time with her was here? Are you fucking nuts?"

"She started it!"

John rolled his eyes.

"Like you never have."

"Not the first time I did her I didn't, no."

"I'm just not sure she even trusts me so don't understand…"

"It feels good?" John chuckled softly with a shrug. "You did make her feel good, right? She left with you last night so I'm guessing she didn't leave here unhappy."

"I'm not an asshole, yes."

"No, you're not, but you're also used to women who don't expect to see you again after that night. Or at least not in that way. She doesn't strike me as the one-night stand type."

"And yet I left her a message Sunday and she didn't call me back."

John chuckled softly at that.

"What?"

He shrugged. "I don't know what to tell you. Maybe she's busy. She's a college student who probably has a bunch of friends back for the summer she hasn't seen since Christmas. I remember Claire's first year here and the breaks. I swear I hardly saw her. She even spent the night at her parents' house a couple of times because it was convenient. Maybe she's not sure. There is an age difference, mattering to you or not is irrelevant. She's still in college for Christ's sake. Maybe she just isn't sure. Maybe she just wanted to get laid and thought you were cute."

"And yesterday?"

"She wanted to get laid again? I don't know. What I know about women is nothing. I barely understand Claire. Trust me, I can admit that, and our marriage works because I can. I wake up every morning grateful as hell she puts up with my crap, the coming home from work dirty every day is the least of it. Holly started that female shit she didn't even try to talk to me about it. She went straight to the source who could help her."

"Already?" Dawson asked.

John shook his head. "Don't even get me started on that, but yes. She was eleven."

"Oh," he said. "Really?"

"Yeah, hell if I knew it happened that early either. You have a sister!"

"She's older."

John grunted softly, supposing that was a legitimate excuse.

"You going to call her again?"

"Figured at lunch, yeah."

"Her brother wasn't thrilled about her talking to you."

"You noticed that, too?"

"I did."

"I got the impression there was something more to it than my age."

"He's her brother. She had a huge hickey on her neck from someone he didn't know. Of course he's going to be protective. Weren't you of your sister even though she was older?"

"Yeah, I guess."

"Just be careful. You're sure she's over eighteen, right?"

"Yes."

"Just checking," John said, regarding him. He didn't look as if he was one hundred percent sure she was over eighteen. John was willing to bet he'd be sure before having sex with her again, though.

"You're done then?"

"With what? Giving you shit? For now."

"No, not that. Kids."

"Oh, yeah. I think four is enough. Three was enough."

"That's why I asked, I know you weren't planning on Mark."

"Nope, but we're done."

"Uh huh."

"She's the one who'd have to stop taking the pill for it to happen. She's adamant we're done."

"So if she stopped taking it?"

John scoffed and Dawson chuckled.

"Hey, at least the youngest two are both boys, they could share a bedroom if they had to."

"She's not going to change her mind. Get your own kids then you won't have to worry about me having anymore. I know you like being Uncle Dawson and everything, but quit living vicariously through me and get your own family."

"I think I need to know her a little better before that happens."

"I think you're right."

"In my car last night, she thought I was just going to leave her there naked or something."

"How old are you again?"

"What?"

"Here. Your car. What's your hurry?"

"Ask her! At least I was able to get her to wait until we got back to my house. I swear she would've right there in the parking lot if I'd been willing to risk getting arrested."

"So, she doesn't trust you?"

"I don't know! Like I said, she just doesn't seem as if she's sure she knows what she's doing."

"Please tell me you've used something."

"Yes! Not the first time, I pulled out because I wasn't expecting it."

"Just be careful. Chicks do weird things sometimes, you know? Holly is proof of that."

"I know."

"Just making sure."

"She's only been with one guy before me she said, years ago."

"Really?" John said. That certainly didn't scream as someone who was just out to get laid then. "Do you think she was lying?"

"How would I know?"

"Uh, I think you'd know the difference, Dawson. Tell me some of the women you've been with you couldn't tell had many different…"

"You know this how?"

Valid question since it'd been sixteen years since he'd been with anyone but Claire. Betty while getting pregnant on purpose was not a girl who'd been with so many guys a good time couldn't be had. None of the girls he'd been with before Betty had been that way either. So, no, he didn't know firsthand.

"Listening to other guys talk about things. Jesus. Have you heard some of the stories Tyler tells about his weekends? Remember that story he told about the chick he'd been with who just had a kid?"

"Yeah, all right. No, I don't think she's lying."

"Okay. Well, I really don't know what to tell you. Maybe she was freaked out by you knowing a drug dealer well enough to get his dog. I admit it was a little strange even to me and I knew both of you. I don't know what else you told her, but that alone could make someone wonder what they were getting involved with."

"I suppose."

"Hey, Dawson," Damian called out.

"Yeah?"

"Someone's here to drop off a car."

"Okay," Dawson said. "John can take care of it," he added.

"No," Damian said. "He specifically asked to speak to you."

"Okay," Dawson said with a frown. "Get to work then," he said to John.

"I'm not the one who was hours late this morning! If that's her try to keep it in your pants until you make it to a bed this time. Women like that I'm told."

"Shut up," Dawson said.

"Can I help you?" he asked when he got outside where the guy was with a very nice Blazer.

"Uh, yeah. My wife ran over something the other night and it seems her alignments pretty off now. Her friend says you're pretty good with cars, so I thought I'd bring it here."

"Sure, we can take a look at it. We're probably looking at tomorrow, is that all right?"

"Yeah. I have some things to do downtown today so figured I'd take a bus from here and can get her to bring me here tomorrow to get it."

"All right," Dawson said. "You need the seats?" he asked, noticing the car seats in the back of the Blazer.

"Nah. We've got them in my car, too."

"Okay."

"So, my wife's friend…" the guy said after Dawson had collected the information he'd need for the car.

"Yeah?"

"Her name's Sara."

"Oh," Dawson said.

He regarded the guy with a little more interest than he had initially. He was a bit older than Sara, which didn't mean that his wife was, too, he realized. It made Dawson wonder, though, if Sara just was friends with people older than her or something.

"Yeah," he said.

"She's friends with your wife?" Dawson found that a little hard to believe. He didn't look like someone who'd grown up in Oak Park.

He chuckled softly at that and Dawson wondered what the joke was. "She is. I met her through an odd set of circumstances. However, Chris thinks pretty highly of Sara."

"Right."

"The Blazer?"

"Oh, it really needs alignment help, but I figured maybe it'd be good for you to know that Sara has people who care about her well-being. People who aren't college-aged and don't know how to fix situations if they have to. I swore once to protect her and I guess years later I still have that instinct."

"No intention of give you any situation to fix."

"Just making sure we're clear. She's special and there are things about her you don't know."

"Well, I just met her a few days ago so obviously."

"Yeah, well. Just so we're clear."

"We are," he said.

"Good enough."

"You want my card?" Dawson asked.

"Uh, no, I know how to find you easily enough, obviously."

"Right," Dawson said, briefly wondering what business the guy had downtown anyway.

"What was that about?" John asked him when he pulled the Blazer inside.

"I'm not sure," Dawson said. "I think I was just threatened."

"Really?"

"Uh huh."

"Who'd you piss off this week?"

"His wife's friends with Sara."

"Oh," John said. "Checking the new guy out. I've done that a couple times to some of Claire's single friends new guys."

"Really?"

"If Claire's asked me to, sure."

"To what end?"

John shrugged. "I got a feel for the guy, let Claire know I thought he was okay or an asshole and what Claire did with that information was her business."

"Huh," Dawson said.

"He doesn't look like anyone that would fit in where Sara grew up, though, going by her brother and his friend last night."

"I was thinking the same thing."

"What's his name?" John asked.

"Joe Gipp," Dawson said.

"Joe Gipp? Are you shitting me," Damian said from behind them. Dawson had almost forgotten he was there.

"No, why?"

"You don't know who he is? I suppose you wouldn't. He's legendary in my neighborhood though, man. The stories about him were epic. Everyone who prowled the streets aimed to be like Joe."

"For what exactly?"

"Anything really. Mostly boosting cars. Rumor was there wasn't a car in all of Chicago he couldn't boost. He used to work for," he paused. "Oh man, what was the guy's name. He's sitting in prison now. Old white dude who had his hand in lots of things. Big operation. Bleak I think was his name. He was a nasty son of a bitch. Joe never got pinched or nothing, though."

"Then why'd he stop?"

"No one knows for sure. Rumor is he beat the crap out of Bleak and just walked away. No one's heard about him or seen him in, man, ten years I bet. I was just a kid when that shit went down."

"Huh," Dawson said. He glanced at John who was apparently thinking the same as him. Maybe he was someone Dawson had to watch out for.

"I don't know," John said with a shrug as if reading Dawson's mind. How did a former car thief from the streets of Chicago end up knowing let alone married to someone who knew Sara?

"You still going to call her at lunch?" John asked after a few minutes.

"Yeah. He doesn't scare me."

"You going to look at the Blazer yourself? Or should I have one of the stooges do it?"

"I think there are supposed to be three of them to be counted as part of the stooges."

"I think there are three of you."

"You're lucky I like you, you know that?"

"I think I'm lucky my name's on the paperwork."

"That, too."

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