***Chapter Four***
Word Count: 6,123

April 1987

"So nothing?" Brenda asked.

"No," Chris said.

"Is that a bad or a good thing?" Brenda asked.

"I don't know."

"Well, at least you know he's not like Mike," Brenda said.

Chris laughed a bit at that.

"I guess."

"Listen to you. Complaining about a guy not doing anything with you."

Chris shrugged. Brenda had walked with Chris to the train station. She'd go back home while Chris met Erik downtown. She wasn't entirely sure what they were doing there. It was a nice day, supposed to be in the seventies again like yesterday so he'd mentioned maybe the zoo.

"I'm just not sure what to make of it. I mean, did I do something wrong? Maybe he doesn't want me to want to. I don't know."

"I'm sure you didn't do anything wrong. It sounds as if he's just being careful."

"Maybe."

"Have you heard from Dan?"

"He's called a couple of times."

"And?"

"What am I supposed to say to him? I told him I can't see him right now. He's not calling every day or anything. As much as I liked kissing him, and I did, I didn't in the same way."

"Well, I can't blame you, but maybe Erik thinks that'll wear off."

"He said something like that."

"Well, then he's probably just being careful, you know. You are still in high school and seventeen."

"I'm almost eighteen!"

"I know that, but maybe he's just being, you know, considerate."

"I suppose. It's just so confusing. Aaron's back from their vacation so we haven't really been able to go anywhere alone anyway."

"He has a house."

"Which he hasn't invited me to. I can't just invite myself or show up there."

"I think I would at this point."

"Why?"

"What if he has a wife or something?"

"Well, I call him there and everything. I've left messages on his answering machine. He wouldn't let me do that if he had a wife."

"I guess not."

"You're being paranoid! He's not already married."

"Probably not," Brenda said.

"I don't know. I mean, it's not like I'm in a huge hurry, but I just thought…"

"You liked it."

"I did," Chris admitted.

"That doesn't make you a bad person or anything, Chris. I mean, there has to be something good about it or no one would make such a big deal out of it."

"I guess."

"Have you seen Mike lately?"

"No. He's called, too, but Mom always takes messages."

"Really?"

"Yeah, she's been kind of funny about it. She even told him I was out with Erik one night when he called."

"Wow."

"I couldn't believe she did that."

"For your mom that's pretty…"

"I know, right? Remember when Aaron was seeing Jaci and Kathy at the same time? Mom hated every minute of it, but she never told on him."

"She knows you're not seeing Mike, though."

"Oh, she does, but I think she was driving home the point to Mike that I'm not seeing or missing him either."

"Good for your mom."

"Yeah, she's all right," Chris said.

"Has he asked when your birthday is?"

"No," she shrugged. "I think I told him it was this month."

"Maybe he's just being extra careful. I wouldn't want to risk someone's parents calling the cops on me if I was him."

"I guess. It's just so strange. To go from…"

"Maybe he just wants you to know there's more to it than that."

"I don't know."

"So, you're meeting him at his garage?"

"Yes."

"Where was the guy that works for him that night last month?"

Chris shrugged as she heard the train heading toward the station. It was still a little ways off, though.

"I don't know. I guess I never asked. I would assume home. He lives with his girlfriend I think Erik mentioned."

"Oh," Brenda said. "The girl who's someone like us. You."

"I still have no idea what exactly that means, but yeah."

"It probably means she's not like him. Them. Mechanics."

"I guess."

"Well, call me later or tomorrow I guess, depending on how late you get in tonight."

"I think he's driving me home tonight, which is why I'm taking the train in."

"Oh," Brenda said. "Well, then I guess I'll talk to you tomorrow."

Chris got on the train, mindful of the directions Erik had given her as far as which bus to catch once she was at the train station downtown. He said there was a bus that stopped not too far from his garage or he would've paid her back for a cab.

It was drastically different coming here in the daylight not to mention not being scared out of her mind that something was going to happen to the kids she was babysitting. The street even looked less sinister and scary. She knew that wasn't true, that there were people around, watching her as she thought that. She just couldn't see them. Erik told her stories, she found them hard to believe because it was so different than anything she was used to in Oak Park. He wouldn't lie, though.

She opened the door, knowing what to expect this time around. She'd been surprised that night how clean his garage had looked. She wasn't sure why, hadn't really had the time to process it. She'd been to the service department where her dad took their cars. She'd been to other garages, too. They never looked like dealership service departments. Erik took good care of his things, though.

"We're actually not open," someone said. She was guessing it was the employee he'd told her about. The only other person she knew of that would be here was Mr. Pruitt and he certainly knew who Chris was.

"Oh, right. I'm looking for Erik."

He looked at her a lot closer then, and Chris ducked her head a bit at the scrutiny.

"Yeah, sure, let me get him," he said.

He disappeared through a door that she assumed led to where Dawson was, which left her standing there. They obviously had work to do. Was he cutting his day short because of her? Was his employee working instead of him because of her? She felt kind of bad about that.

"Hey, you're early," he said when he walked up to her.

"I know, sorry."

"It's nothing to be sorry for."

"Listen," she said, gesturing to the garage.

"Yeah?" he asked, looking confused.

"If you're busy. I mean, we made plans earlier in the week. I understand if things came up."

"Nothing's come up. Don't I look like I'm dressed to leave with you?"

"Well, yeah, but," she said, pointing at the cars.

"That's the excellent thing about being the boss. If I don't want to work on a Saturday I don't have to."

"Yes, but that's not fair…"

"Honey, life's not always fair. Besides, he wanted the extra hours this week. He needs some money for a trip his girlfriend wants to go on in June. I don't pay out tons in overtime so I can handle a few hours' worth once in a while. So it worked out fine for both of us."

"Oh," she said. "If you're sure. I just, you said he lives with his girlfriend."

"Yeah. I think she can get by without him for a few hours. I mean, I'm paying him to be here. He's not working off the clock or anything. I assume she wants him to go on the trip with her."

"I know, I just didn't realize…"

"You coming here meant I was playing hokey?"

"Yeah," she said.

"I think I'm entitled once in a while. Now, if you're having second thoughts about spending the day down here with me."

"No," she said quickly. She'd been looking forward to it since he mentioned it on Wednesday.

"All right then."

"So, what are we doing anyway?" she asked.

"You have your keys, John?" Erik asked.

"Yeah," he said. "You're leaving?"

"Yes."

"Won't be back?" He was looking at her curiously again.

"I guess that depends on whether Chris gets bored with me or not."

"Erik," she said softly.

"Well, you might. We've never spent an entire day together."

"That's not my fault!"

"I know, but it's still true. So. No, I probably won't be back."

"All right. See you Monday then."

"I'll be here," Erik said.

He opened the door for her leading outside and walked with her to his car.

"So, you made it all right."

"Yes," she said.

"I'm glad. I was a little worried."

"Why? I've come downtown before."

"Not on a bus to this neighborhood to see me. Your parents would kill me if you got mugged or something."

"They wouldn't kill you."

"I bet they'd change their tune about it being okay to see me."

She shrugged.

"Yeah, see."

"Why was he looking at me so strange?"

"John?" He shrugged, starting his car and letting it warm up for a few minutes. "I don't know. He's kind of a strange guy. I didn't notice he was. I'm sure it was nothing."

"So, do you live around the garage?" Chris asked when they were at dinner. He'd taken her to the Field Museum, which was fun. She hadn't been there since like grade school. He'd said it'd been about the same for him.

"Not really. Why? I told you I'd drive you home so you don't have to worry about bus stops or anything."

"No, just curious," she said with a shrug.

"Chris?" he asked.

"It's nothing. I'm just curious. You've never said where you live."

"I didn't realize you wanted to know."

"You know where I live," she added.

"Yeah, I did something bordering on illegal to get the information. You didn't hand it to me. I'm lucky you didn't call the cops on me that night."

"I thought about it for a second when I saw you standing there."

"So, you're just curious then?"

She shrugged again. She had to admit Brenda's comment about him already being married sort of hit a nerve with her. She had no idea where he lived, who he lived with, what he did when he was downtown nights without her because she was still in high school. And seventeen.

He leaned back on his chair a bit, regarding her. "What is it you want to know? You want my address? If I live in a house or an apartment? What?"

"No, I was just wondering. You know. Asking. Isn't that what people do when they're on dates. Ask questions."

"I guess."

She dipped a fry in some ketchup. "It's just Brenda said something at the train station tonight."

"Brenda did?"

"Yeah," she said with a shrug.

"Okay," he said cautiously. He knew Brenda and she'd confided in him that her best friend had tried to warn her about Mike.

"And then the guy who works for you looking at me oddly. It got me thinking."

"About?"

"I have no idea if you're married, have a girlfriend, or anything."

"I, uh. Wow. Okay. I can honestly admit I didn't see that one coming." He was watching her now and she wasn't sure if he was mad or what. "You've called my house!"

"I know that."

"You've given me hickeys!"

She blushed and he chuckled softly at that.

"You hadn't thought on that, huh?"

"No, I guess I hadn't."

"Not only have you given them to me, but I've told you more than once I don't care where you leave them. Trust me, if I had someone else I was going home to or out with besides you I'd care where you left them."

"I suppose…" She hadn't thought of that. She'd heard all sorts of excuses from her female friends about a hickey, but guys couldn't really lie about what it was. Guys didn't use curling irons.

"I don't know what John's deal was beyond like I said, people don't come around the garage looking for me. Pruitt. I don't have friends dropping by to see me."

"Okay."

"I don't have a wife or a girlfriend. Well, I have you who I hope considers herself my girlfriend. I mean I guess we haven't established that you are definitely."

"I just," she shrugged. "She made me curious I guess. You've never made any effort to tell me where you live."

"Well, there's a reason for that."

"What?"

"You're not eighteen!"

"So that means you can't show me your house?"

"I thought it was the safer option, yes."

"I'm going to be eighteen in like two weeks."

"That soon?"

"Yes."

"I still thought it was the safer option. I didn't want to bring you there and have you think I was pressuring you or something."

"Yes, but since that night at Aaron's house…"

"Jesus. I'm a bad guy because I'm not trying to fool around with you at every turn?"

"Well, no, I just. I don't know. I thought you liked it…"

"Honey, of course I did."

"I mean, I realize you probably didn't enjoy yourself that much."

"No, that's not it at all. I won't deny it's been a very long time since I've had to worry about those things."

"I haven't asked you to worry, though."

"Well, no. I've done that because you deserve so much better than that. Your brother came home and then what? I don't know. I figured getting used to spending time with you was a good thing."

"I know. I just," she shrugged.

"Chris. I don't know what to tell you. I'm not him. You know? I realize he hurt you and I'm sorry. I'm not seeing anyone else."

"I know."

"Do you? Your friend mentions my having a wife and you start thinking maybe I do. Why? What have I done to make you think that's even a remote possibility? Besides not shown you where I live, which you haven't asked! I didn't even realize you cared."

"I don't know. He didn't even know I was coming there for you."

"He who? John? Oh, well, no. I guess I didn't tell him. It wasn't deliberate. I wasn't being shifty or anything. I guess, too, I'm not altogether sure you're going to wake up one morning and realize the frat guy is the way to go. So I figured I'd save myself the embarrassment."

"I haven't gone out with him!"

"I know you haven't, but I also notice you don't tell me you haven't talked to him."

"He calls me! I haven't called him."

"Have you told him why you can't go out with him right now?"

"You're embarrassed to go out with me?"

"That is not what I said or meant. I meant the embarrassment of having someone like you look twice at me and lose her to something beyond my control."

"You haven't lost me. You also said his girlfriend is like me."

"Yeah, but they've known one another. Went to school together and stuff. Have a history. And trust me when I say that it's complicated for them. They live together but her parents don't know."

"Oh," she said. "Because he's a mechanic?"

"I haven't really asked for details, but that's the impression I get. Yeah. You know, he's not good enough for their daughter. Of course there's things they don't know about their daughter, but I guess what parent knows everything about their kid."

"Well, my parents haven't said anything like that."

"So, have you told him why you can't go out with him?"

"I told him I met someone else, yes."

"And he still calls?"

"Yes," Chris said with a shrug.

"Often?"

"No. He's called a few times I guess. Not every day or anything."

"Huh," Erik said.

"That surprises you?"

"Well, no, not necessarily, but I guess it just drives home the point that I need to ensure I don't fuck up knowing he's right there calling, knowing you've met someone different."

"I don't know. I wondered if maybe he didn't believe me, like he thought I was just saying that instead of telling him outright I wasn't interested or something."

"I could see that, I suppose. And then Brenda plants the seed in your brain that I might be involved with someone else."

"I didn't call him! I haven't called him. I wouldn't have even if I wasn't sure you were married."

"That is good to know."

"Where are we going?" she asked later when it was clear they weren't headed toward the expressway to take her home. She didn't have a set time to be home but she knew he'd gotten up much earlier than she had that morning.

"I figured I'd prove to you I don't have a wife waiting for me at home. I guess the girlfriend part can't be proven by the fact she's not there. Again, though, you've left me hickeys. What guy would let you do that if he was seeing someone else?"

"I hadn't thought of that… I haven't since that first weekend, though."

"I didn't tell you not to."

"No," she said.

"Just want to be sure that's out there. You not doing it doesn't meant I've stopped you or anything. That was your choice."

"Well, yeah, but we weren't…"

"We've kissed, Christine."

"I know," she said with a shrug. Regular kissing, out of a bed, and knowing her mom was upstairs if he was at her house just didn't lend itself to doing things like that.

***

"Where's Dawson?" Pruitt asked.

"I'm not sure. He left a while ago, said he probably wouldn't be back. I got the impression it was more probably not."

"Everything all right?"

John shrugged. "Your guess is as good as mine. He seemed fine. Someone came here for him and he left with her."

"He did, huh," Pruitt said and John got the impression the wrecker driver wasn't too happy about what John had just said.

"Something wrong with her?" John asked. She'd seemed nice in the less than ten minutes he'd seen her. Cute. Quiet. "It's not his sister, is it?" John asked. He'd never seen her, but he'd heard Dawson talk about her. She seemed to John as if she was a lot of trouble for her brother. Ironic John thinking that about someone, but he knew a lot of times she'd call looking for money or something.

Pruitt laughed. "Nah, I doubt it if he left here with her. He wouldn't do that."

"Oh," he said. "Then what's wrong with her?"

"Other than the fact she's not eighteen yet, nothing."

"Oh," John said. "Really?" That surprised him for some reason. Dawson wasn't the type to invite scrutiny from the law. Given the location of his garage there were all sorts of unsavory types milling about at all hours of the day and night. Police were a frequent sight around here so Dawson tended to run a pretty tight and legitimate ship. It was one of the reasons John stayed put. He was learning a lot without risking getting into trouble.

"Yes. I told him he should stay away from her."

"She didn't look that young," John said. He hadn't really paid attention, but she hadn't looked much younger than him or Claire.

"I think she's turning eighteen soon. She's a senior, but she's a nice girl."

"Yeah," John said cautiously. She'd seemed nice so he couldn't argue with him there.

"I don't like it."

"Well, you're not her mom or dad."

"No," Pruitt said.

"He's not going to do anything stupid to risk going to jail, especially if she's turning eighteen soon anyway. He's not dumb."

Pruitt grunted a bit at that, adjusting the cap on his head as he went in the direction of the break room. He'd pour himself a cup of coffee and read the paper for a while before going out again.

Dawson wasn't the nicest guy in the world, but John knew things about his boss Pruitt didn't. He wasn't sure what Pruitt would think if he knew those things about either of them, but that didn't matter because John was pretty sure Dawson wanted Pruitt finding out about as much as John did. Which was not at all.

In all of the times he had come over to John and Claire's apartment he'd never pushed for more than John (or Claire) was willing to include him in. John, overall, wasn't a huge sharer he'd come to find out the past year. Dawson had respected whatever boundaries there were so John didn't see him behaving much differently with a girl he seemed to have a date with. Especially someone who could send him to jail.

"Who is she anyway?" John asked him a while later when he'd ventured back into the garage area. Kind of weird for him to have a date show up here.

"Just a girl."

"Girls like that don't live around here," John said. He may not have scrutinized her appearance down to her shoelaces, but he knew money when he saw it. He lived with it and saw it in Claire's friends enough to know.

Pruitt chuckled heartily at that.

"You speaking from experience there, John."

He shrugged, regarding the other man. "Well, they don't."

"No, you're right. He met her last month. I towed her car here. Bad situation she had going on. That weekend I ended up going to jail?"

"Oh," John said with a nod. He remembered the weekend. He had no idea what Pruitt's arrest had to do with her. John knew he'd gotten into it with the guy Pruitt's wife was sleeping with on the side.

"How's Claire?" Pruitt asked.

"Fine," John said.

"Yeah. She's doing well in school?"

"Yeah, as far as I know."

"Good. Her parents know you're living there yet?"

"No," John said with a shrug.

"She must have her reasons for not telling them."

"I guess," John said. It, oddly, bothered him less now than it had a year ago. At first he'd thought she was hiding him or something. They did things with her parents and her brother, they just didn't know they lived together. His parents wouldn't give a shit, but he had to respect her parents would.

"You know, you could ask her to marry you and solve the problem."

"She has to finish school," John said.

"You've thought about it?"

"Well, sure. I didn't go through what I did to get her to trust me just to walk away from her."

"Some guys would."

"I'm not some guys."

"No, I don't guess you are. Time to hit the road again," he said.

"All right. You have your keys, right?"

"I do."

"All right. See you later or Monday, I guess."

"You have a good weekend, John."

"You, too," he said.

John wasn't sure what Pruitt did with his weekends anymore, especially tonight when it seemed like Dawson had other plans. He and his wife were getting a divorce John knew. Their kids were grown and gone so from things John overheard around the garage it wasn't going to be a huge headache.

"Hey, John," he said.

"Yeah?"

"You have dinner and stuff?"

He chuckled. "I do, thanks."

"Sure," he said with a shrug. He liked the old man. John liked to think if he'd had a normal dad he'd have been someone like Pruitt. "I just know you were probably expecting Dawson to be here…"

"Yeah, I've got it covered. Thanks."

"Sure," he said. The two men shared meals more often than not in the evenings after John had gone home. John knew, though, if he'd told Pruitt he didn't have something to eat he would've made sure John had dinner before heading out just now.

***

"Now you understand why I haven't rushed out to show you where I live," he said, watching her as she took in his living room.

"There's nothing wrong with your house, Erik," she said.

"Well, no," he said. He knew there wasn't. It wasn't nearly as nice or as large as her house was, but he took care of it. He had, by far, the nicest house on his block inside and out because he worked at it. Unfortunately, no one else in his neighborhood gave a shit. His neighborhood wasn't that great either, certainly not an impression maker to someone like Chris and what she was used to.

"Do me a favor, though, okay?"

"Okay?"

"Don't ever, ever come down here without my knowing you're coming here. Don't decide to surprise me one night or something, okay?"

"Erik…"

"I know. That probably sounds very much like I'm hiding something or I'm trying to combat you finding out I have other women over. That's not it. You can call me any time, twenty-four hours a day. You can come here anytime you want, really. I'd feel awful if something happened to you or your mom's car coming down here."

"I know," she said. He hoped she did and his just saying that hadn't ruined what his bringing her back here had accomplished.

He watched her as she walked from his living room to his kitchen. She went to the stairs that led to the basement but didn't venture down them, which was probably best.

"What are you doing in there?" she asked about the small half-bath off his kitchen. She slid her coat off, draping it over one of his kitchen chairs after asking the question.

"It's a half-bath and everything needed replacing so I got rid of the toilet and sink. I figured I'd do the floor and walls before putting new ones in."

"Oh," she said.

The half-bath was so small it wasn't something he could use for anything more than standing to take a piss and wash his hands in. It was nice to have functional, though, during the summer when he was out in the yard mowing the lawn so he didn't have to traipse upstairs. Or during the winter when he was pushing snow to have to stop and take off his layers of clothes before going upstairs. Someone Chris' size could probably sit and use it comfortably.

"So, you see anything around here that suggests I'm not anything but the bachelor I've told you I am?"

"No," she said.

That was good because there was nothing there. Fuck, he couldn't even remember the last time he'd had a girlfriend. A couple of years at least.

"Why are you?"

"Why am I what?"

"A bachelor?"

"Uh, I don't know how to answer that. I'm not sure. I told you, I met Claire and realized I wanted better than what this neighborhood has to offer me."

"Yeah, but that was like a year or two ago. What about before then?"

"I had a business to run. I've been busy. As you witnessed the night we met it's not always a nine to five job."

"I get it," she said.

"I mean, you know, I go out once in a while. John and his girlfriend have me over for dinner and stuff once a month or so."

"That's nice of them."

"Yeah," Erik said, though he imagined she probably wouldn't think so if she knew all of the details. Not that he was going to divulge those details to her.

"Can I see the rest?"

"The rest?"

"Of your house?"

"Oh, yeah, sure, I didn't want to assume…"

"It's all right."

He showed her the upstairs and the two small spare bedrooms up there. He had no doubt her bedroom was probably twice as big as both of his spare rooms together. He was able to fit a full-sized bed in each of them with a dresser. He could probably get a desk in there, too, but it'd be pretty tight. He supposed the rooms were originally designed to have twin beds, but as he had no kids he'd gone the full-sized bed route.

"The rooms don't get used much. Ever," he said with a shrug.

"Ever?"

He closed the door to the last room. "All's I have is a sister and she's not someone I'd let stay here for a prolonged period of time. Like during the week when I'm at work."

"Why?"

"She's an addict and pretty far gone. She'd pawn anything she could get her hands on, and while I don't have a lot of things. I've taken care that the things I have are nice. Her kids will stay with me once in a while, but that doesn't happen very often these days."

"Oh?"

"They're in foster care so it's a lot of red tape to go through to get them to come here. The state has been here and everything, but because I don't want to disrupt their routine I went a while in between trying to get them overnight and then they'd have to come back out here."

"I see," she said.

"No, you don't, but thanks for saying so. I'm not equipped for kids. My job, my life. I'd get no help from her, but she'd see it as an indication she could stay here. Her kids I'd change my job for maybe. Not the job, but the hours and stuff. Not her."

"Erik, I get it."

"If you say so."

"I grew up with a friend who was a foster child. She left a few times and always came back."

"Yeah, fortunately my niece and nephews haven't had that happen to them. They've stayed in I think it's two homes now. My sister won't relinquish her rights. If she'd do that I'd probably consider taking them myself, but she insists she's going to clean up."

"Has she tried?"

"No," he said.

"I'm sorry. For them, but for you, too."

"I go see them at least once a month, take them out to eat or a movie, whatever. That's never been a problem, hanging with them. It's the house that's the problem. They need to make sure every time it's okay."

"That their mom won't be here?"

"Yes, that, too. She could be here, but she can't be alone with them."

"Is she older or younger?"

"Older," he said.

"That's tough."

"And our dad's gone so even though I'm the little brother sometimes I feel more like a dad than a brother."

"How old are the kids?"

"Eight, seven, and three."

"Three?"

"Yup. I don't think she has any memory of ever living with her mom."

"That's so sad."

"It is, but clearly the love of a child won't clean her up. I've been told that can only come from within her."

"And their dad?"

He laughed softly at that. "The eight year old, Henry, his dad's dead."

"Oh my gosh."

"He OD'd not long after Henry was born. The other two," he shrugged, glancing at his hands. This wasn't really the conversation he'd planned on having with her so soon. "I'm not sure she knows who their fathers are."

"Oh," she said.

"Yeah, things are a little different for me…"

"You think that bothers me?"

"I think that…"

"That's why you keep thinking I'm going to change my mind and want to be with Dan."

He rolled his eyes. He hated having a name to go with the frat guy. A name was better than a face, but he sort of had a face anyway. He had a camera on the exterior of his garage. The quality wasn't fantastic, but the few times he'd had vandals damage his property it'd gotten the job done. So, while it was a grainy face he knew what Dan looked like because he'd gone back and looked at the tape from that night the following Monday.

And hated himself a little more for very nearly cutting Chris and those kids loose without their car. He had no idea why the guy had left before she was actually in possession of her car. Regardless, he had seen enough to figure out what Dan looked like not that Chris knew that.

"That's a good chunk of it, yes. I didn't go to college. I won't ever go to college. I barely passed high school."

"Yet you run a business and obviously succeed."

"Why obviously?"

"Because you have cars to fix, employees."

"Yeah."

"Well, clearly you're not stupid. Not everyone goes to college. I didn't want to until Mike and I broke up."

"Yeah, and that's the other thing…"

"My going to college?"

He shrugged, opening the door to his room last. "No judging, please. I wasn't expecting you here."

She laughed softly as she stepped through the doorway.

"It's better than my brother's before he got married ever was," she said.

"Yeah, well, I don't have a maid or a mother to clean up after me. I just know that I'm not the neatest guy in the world every day either."

"So, me and college," she said. If she was uncertain or hesitant to be in his room with him she didn't act like it.

He shrugged. "Yeah, I don't know where you're going, what you're doing, and there's going to be lots of other guys like Dan around."

"Actually I'm looking at DePaul or Loyola."

"Really?"

"Yeah," she said with a shrug.

"Are you Catholic or something?"

"We are," she said.

"Ah," he said.

"Is that bad?"

"No, just curious," he said with a shrug.

"Are you?"

"No. I was Protestant. Am, I guess, I haven't set foot in a church since my dad's funeral."

"How long ago was that?"

"I was nine."

"God, that's Sara's age."

"Tina, my sister, was eighteen and already pretty wild. Dad dying just opened the barn door for her to live her life like a free-for-all."

"And your mom?"

"Never quite recovered from Dad dying on her before the age of forty."

"I'm sorry," she said.

"It's all right. Luckily the guy who owned the garage before me recognized something in me and took me under his wing or I would have been like the corner-look-out kids that we passed driving here."

"I noticed them."

"Did you? And you knew what they were?"

"I did," she said.

"Good. That's part of the reason I don't ever want you to come here without my knowing about it ahead of time. I don't care if it's eleven o'clock in the morning."

"Why do you live here?"

He shrugged. "The house was cheap. This block and the few around it aren't bad. I can survive here just fine. That doesn't mean I want you driving down here to surprise me some day and your car breaks down four blocks from here."

"I get it."

"Good."

"Thank you for showing me your house."

"You believe me now that I don't have a wife stashed away?"

"I didn't really…"

"You must have had a doubt."

"I don't know. You worry about Dan. I worry about women you meet that can offer you things I just can't."

"Like what?"

She shrugged, blushing and he chuckled a bit.

"You're right. If that's all I wanted I could go to the bar a few blocks down and find it very easily. I won't deny when I was twenty-one I did that a lot of Friday and Saturday nights."

"Erik…"

"Watching John and Claire, though, I realized possibly I was selling myself short. I see the way they are together. They trust one another."

"You know them that well?"

He scoffed a bit at that. "Yeah, I do."

"So we're both uncertain."

"You choosing a college closeby makes me a little less uncertain."

"I will be going to school."

"Oh, I know that, but it's better than you off in Berkley or something."

"I wouldn't want to go that far."

"I'm glad you're close to your family like that."

"Does your mom work?"

"Yeah."

"What does she do?"

"She's a secretary at the school down the street from our house."

"Oh."

"She's been there forever and likely will be there until the day she dies. She likes the kids."

"Could she not care for your niece and nephews?"

"No. Mentally, no."

"Oh."

"She does all right with other people's kids at school, in an office, where she's not surrounded by them all day and all night. Anyway, I better get you home so that your parents don't think I've abducted you or anything."

"Well, it's Saturday night and they know I was coming downtown."

"What does that mean?"

She shrugged, smiling a bit and he liked that smile on her a lot. It meant she had kissing on her mind, which was something they hadn't had the opportunity to do since her brother had gotten back from his vacation. He suspected it meant they had a little longer than he'd planned on having with her today. That was all right with him.

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