Word Count: 4,030
"Hi Claire," Kylie said with a smile.
Claire looked up from the files she was putting together on a couple of drunk and disorderly charges that had come in last night. She'd always pictured a police department open and running around the clock. That wasn't the case here in Wheelsy. People were jailed around the clock, but if they were put in jail, they stayed there until Bill got there at eight.
"How was school?"
Kylie set her backpack on the floor next to the desk that she'd pretty much commandeered as hers when she came here after school. She went to the break room and came back a minute later with an apple and a yogurt.
"It was fine. Bill came in to talk to the school about drugs."
Claire smiled. "Yeah, I saw that on his schedule. Is that weird?"
"Having him come talk to your classmates?"
Kylie shrugged, taking a bite of the apple. "Not really. I mean, everyone knows I'm living with him so it's no big secret. There are no secrets in Wheelsy anyway."
When Claire had first started working at the sheriff's office, she'd thought Bill Pardy was a lot older. She didn't find out until about a week later that Kylie wasn't his daughter. She'd lost her entire family one night and Bill had taken her in. Claire didn't have all the details, but from what she gathered they'd gone through something together and Kylie wasn't willing to be put in foster care with anyone but Bill.
Claire couldn't imagine losing her entire family all at once. She was doing pretty well as far as Claire could tell, too, considering it'd only been a couple of months since it happened. She'd read the newspaper articles, but they sounded so farfetched. Zombies and things from outer space, but Claire had to put aside her skepticism because really what would people say if she told them she was invincible. And that there were people out there with other abilities.
"Who are the flowers from?" Kylie asked.
"I'm not sure," Claire said, scrunching her nose as she glanced at the bouquet of flowers that had been delivered just as she opened the office.
"Isn't there a card?"
"There is, but it wasn't signed."
"Call the florist."
"I tried that. The person paid with cash and in person."
"Oh. So, you have like a secret admirer."
"I guess," Claire said.
"My money's on Jimmy Draper," Bill said, leaning against the doorframe that separated his office from the main room.
"Jimmy?" Claire said. He wouldn't have been her first choice.
"Uh oh," Kylie said. "It doesn't sound like you want it to be Jimmy."
"I, well, no, I just hadn't thought of Jimmy like that. We danced one night at Henenlotter's, but I haven't really seen him since."
"Jimmy doesn't dance, least I've never seen him. So, I took that to mean he was sweet on you."
"Wouldn't he have signed the card though?"
"Not sure he's ever sent flowers to a girl before to know that."
"Well, that's helpful."
Bill chuckled. "Just let him down easy, sweetheart."
"Why? Is he going to shoot me or something?"
"I don't think he'd go that far, no. I just don't think he's ever been interested in a girl before."
"That's assuming it's him."
"You dance with many others?"
"I've been out on a date or two…" Claire said.
"Anyone I know?"
Claire glanced at him. Had he really asked her that? He knew everyone.
"Right. Stupid question. Well, then, until the mystery man identifies himself I guess we'll just have to keep guessing."
"I guess so," Claire said. She didn't want to admit it, because it sounded stupid even to her, but she wasn't sure she liked the idea of getting anonymous flowers. Her past dictated that she should be suspicious. Bill was right, though, it could be someone just being nice and not wanting to put his name to it yet.
"How was school, Kylie?"
"Getting to it right now."
"Good, good. All right, I'm going back to work."
"Yes, because it's just so busy today," Claire said with a roll of her eyes. Other than the two drunk and disorderly files from last night, there hadn't been too much going on.
"I'm all about slow. The full moon is coming up; things will pick up enough to keep us busy then."
"Does that really happen?"
"Yes," Bill said simply. "I'm a firm believer in it. I don't have any statistics to go with that belief."
"Huh," Claire said.
"Of course, another slow month wouldn't be so bad. We kinda reached our quota for excitement a couple months back."
"I guess so," Claire said. She was surprised Bill mentioned it. He tended not to, especially in front of Kylie.
"Anyway, I'll be in my office if you need anything."
"Thanks," Claire said. She didn't usually. He'd seemed surprised she was capable. He'd had someone working here before she came along, but it didn't work out for whatever reason. All she'd gotten out of Kylie was that the woman had been his high school sweetheart of sorts. Only they hadn't ended up together. She'd gone and married some rich guy who she'd had to kill to stop the mayhem a couple of months back.
"So, are they together now or what?" Claire asked.
"No, I think everything that happened was too much. He said something about wanting what you can't have holding some extra appeal."
"I've heard that, too," Claire admitted. "So, where is she now?"
"No one knows. She left town. Her husband's business is still open. She found someone to run it and everything, so I'm not sure she has reason to come back."
"Huh," Claire said simply.
"Oh, hey," Bill said, sticking his head out from his office. "Pizza night. What do you want on it, Kylie?"
"The usual is fine. Pepperoni."
"I keep hoping one of these days you'll surprise me and mix it up a little."
"Just order what you want then."
"Nah, I don't rightly care." He glanced at Claire then who was watching the exchange between them. "You want to join us?"
"Yeah, unless the flowers came with a dinner invite you have to eat, right?"
"I have Lucky at the house."
"Bring him along," Kylie said. "Bill's got a yard."
"Sure, you can do that," Bill agreed.
"All right. I guess pizza sounds good."
"Maybe you two can get your own pizza with whatever you want on it," Kylie offered.
"Well, now, I hadn't thought of that," Bill said, sounding very much like he really had thought of it. "That's not a half bad idea at all, Kylie. What do you like on your pizza, Claire?"
"It'd serve you right if I said pepperoni."
"No, I don't care. Supreme is fine."
"All right," he said. "I'll call in the order just before we head out and pick up the pizzas on the way home while you go get Lucky. What kind of dog is he again?"
"Oh right. A rescued dog."
"Well, then I guess his name is appropriate."
"I like to think so."
"He a good watch dog?"
"I don't know yet, hopefully I'll never find out."
"Does he bark when someone comes onto your yard?"
"Bark? No, but he goes to the door and checks it out."
"That's something at least."
"That was really good. I haven't had pizza in months."
"I don't know. My mom told me not to get into the habit of ordering out or I'd never start to cook."
"I see, probably sound advice," Bill said, sitting back on the couch. "Where are your folks?"
"My mom's out west with my brother. My dad died when I was in high school."
"Thanks," she said. She felt a little guilty saying that since Kylie's really was dead. It was just so much easier and produced fewer questions.
"How old's your brother? I'm not sure I've heard you mention your family much."
"He's in his second year of college."
"Only the one?"
"Yes, just me. My parents are still around Wheelsy. You'll see Mom for sure. She comes to the station once in a while with a pie or cookies or what have you."
"That sounds nice."
"It is for the most part. There are times I've wondered if I shouldn't have gotten away from Wheelsy after high school."
"You still could."
"I'm from here and as much as I don't like to admit it, I like my job. If I were to move somewhere else I wouldn't be chief. And, well, I might just have to work for a living, capturing crooks instead of locking up drunks."
She laughed. "Averse to work?"
"When I took the job I liked the idea of doing as little as possible. I've always gotten by doing just that."
"Well, since the episode I realized I might have been shortchanging myself. I didn't really know how to handle a real crisis. I mean we got lucky, really. Who knows what would have happened if we hadn't been able to stop it from spreading."
"That's not so bad then."
"No, I guess everyone gets a wakeup call. That was mine. Skating by is fine, but I've got Kylie to set some sort of an example by even if it's only til she's done with college or whatever."
"She likes you and seems happy here."
"I'm not sure if she's happy so much as we went through it together and I'm safe to her."
"Well, she lost her family, so happy probably isn't the right word. There's nothing wrong with feeling safe, Bill. I went through a spell where I didn't feel safe and believe me when I tell you that getting that back is a great feeling."
"Someone after you?"
"Yes," she said simply.
"Could it be the same someone that sent you flowers?"
"No," Claire said quickly. She wasn't on Sylar's radar anymore. He'd turned his focus and attention to other specials. That wasn't to say he wouldn't come for her one day.
"Yes, because when I got home there was a red rose on the porch step leading to my door."
"No," she said simply.
"I thought you seemed a little distracted when you got here."
"Claire, if you're in danger."
"I don't think I am. You're probably right. It's probably Jimmy or someone trying to woo me with gifts."
"You said there were others you'd gone out with?"
"You could try asking them."
"I might tomorrow."
"How many we talking about?"
She laughed softly. "Not many," she said.
"No one you thought was enamored with you?"
"No. And I'm not sure why I'm explaining myself to you."
"And if I asked you how many dates you'd been on?"
"Lately? Not many. My social calendar has been pretty empty except for time spent with Kylie."
"Is that because Mrs. Grant left town?"
"You know about her?"
"I've heard things. She worked at the station before me."
"It was just temporary. She wanted to keep busy and I needed someone in the office. Killed two birds with one stone."
"But she left."
"I could have stopped her I suppose. I'm not sure she really wanted me to any more than I did."
"You didn't want to?"
"You ask tough questions, Claire Baxter."
"You don't have to answer."
"No, no, it's okay. I guess I didn't. I spent a lot of time - years it seems - pining for her, I won't deny it. Coveted another man's wife, which I realize is a sin."
"And once she was free?"
"Well, I realized we just didn't have things to talk about. There was a reason she'd married Grant. She wanted a life I wasn't ever going to be able to provide for her. I'm a cop, earning a small town cop's wage, and because this is a small town my hours aren't exactly predictable. I can't come home at night and swear I'm in for the night."
"Understandable. I think anyone who gets involved with a cop has to know that."
"Well, knowing it and coming face to face with the realization are different."
"I suppose so. She couldn't handle that?"
"She didn't say, but I guessed when she worked in the office and saw how things worked. And don't ever repeat this to Kylie, but she wasn't too keen on Kylie living with me. At least she left town and we're still friends. I've known her a long time, would hate to mess that up especially when she needs a friend probably more than anything these days."
Claire regarded her beer can, tracing the top with a fingertip. "I thought Kylie was your daughter when I first started working for you."
"Do I look that old?"
"Well, no, but I didn't know the situation and she always came to the station. So, I just assumed."
He chuckled and she was glad he found it amusing not insulting.
"Speaking of Kylie, I hope she doesn't think she had to go eat by herself," he said.
Claire smiled, glancing at the TV and the rerun of Home Improvement that was on. She had an idea why Kylie had left them alone. Just like she had earlier when Bill had invited Claire for pizza. Claire wouldn't put it past Kylie to suggest to Bill he do it.
It was quiet in the office, Bill was out rescuing a cat or something when Kylie came in from school so they'd started talking about boys and other girly things. The topic had quickly shifted away from Kylie and a potential date for prom to Claire.
"So do you like him?" Kylie had asked when Claire had brought up the subject of Starla Grant.
"I don't really know him."
"But you'd like to know him better?"
"I wouldn't say no…" Claire had said. "But if he's still after her I'm not going to get mixed up in that."
"I don't think he is. I saw it that night," she said, growing quiet. "And I don't see that look in his eyes anymore. It's different. He still likes her, but he doesn't LIKE her."
"I get it," Claire said.
"I don't think she thinks that. I think she just assumed we'd be talking about stuff she has no interest in. And I'm sure she'd rather talk to her friends anyway."
"Good lord in heaven does she know how to do that! I didn't think it was possible for someone to talk on the phone that much."
Claire laughed. "That's what teenaged girls are good at."
"Yes! I drove my parents crazy."
"The popular kind, huh?"
Claire shrugged. "I was and wasn't. I was a cheerleader and had friends, but I wasn't really on the inside of the main clique or anything."
"Why would I be?"
"I don't know," she said, taking a sip of her beer.
"You need another one?"
"Need, probably not, but I'll have another one if you are."
"Sure," he said, standing from the couch and walking toward the kitchen. The layout of the house seemed similar to hers she'd noticed. It was old and the rooms were on the small side but until Kylie had come along, he probably hadn't needed a lot of room.
She couldn't help but watch as he walked. He had a really nice ass, which she had noticed more than once. She wasn't one of those women that went for a guy in uniform, but there was something to be said for Bill Pardy's uniform and the way it fit him. Very well. He didn't look bad at all in blue jeans either.
"So, your social calendar's been empty lately, Sheriff?" she asked when he returned to the room.
"Yes. Kylie keeps me busy as has the aftermath of everything that happened. People still call the station thinking they've seen something that isn't more than a dog. Well, you know, you take the calls."
"Yeah, I've noticed. I try to deflect the calls if I can."
"It's appreciated. It'll take a while for people to realize the threat is gone."
"And some may never."
"I suppose that's true."
"So, what would you do if Kylie and work wasn't keeping you busy?"
"Oh, well, that depends on who's with me."
"Someone like me?"
"Well, I don't know. What does a girl like you enjoy doing?"
"I'm pretty flexible."
"So, pizza and lame sitcom reruns?"
She laughed softly. "Works for me sometimes."
"You're a dancer, though."
"I've been known to from time to time, yes."
"You've looked pretty at home the couple of times I've seen you. Dinner? Movies?"
"Yes, I like those things."
She scrunched her nose. "I'm not very good, but sure."
"Hmm, I'd have to think on that one."
"Not a killer of animals, huh?"
"I don't think so. I suppose if I had to, you know, like to survive."
He chuckled. "Most people around here use just about the entire animal."
"Good to know."
He set his beer down on the coffee table and shifted a little so he faced her. "I'm beginning to wonder if this isn't a setup."
"What?" she asked, trying to sound innocent. Or at least as if that thought hadn't already occurred to her. She was innocent. If it was a setup it was Kylie's idea all on her own.
"It's not like Kylie not to come down here fifty times a night."
"All right, maybe a slight exaggeration, but she hasn't come down once. Not even to bring her plate down."
"Maybe she fell asleep," Claire offered.
"Maybe," he said, seeming to think on that. "Would that bother you?" He draped his arm over behind her along the back of the couch.
"If it was a setup?"
"I guess that depends on whether it would bother you."
"Bother me? Oh yeah, such a bother." He gave a soft chuckle and leaned toward her. "You drunk?"
"No," she said softly. "Are you?"
"Not even a buzz on," he said, closing the distance between them.
"Then neither of us is drunk."
"I had to ask. I make it a practice not to kiss girls who've had one too many."
"That's good to know," she whispered.
First kisses were both exciting and a little awkward. This one was no exception, especially given the fact he was her boss. Her father would probably have a thing or two to say about her getting involved with him. Then, that'd be the case with anyone.
She pushed thoughts of anything but Bill and kissing him aside. It was easy to do because he wasn't a bad kisser. Despite the few dates she'd gone on since moving to Wheelsy, she hadn't really kissed anyone in a while. She just wasn't one of those women who could kiss anyone without it meaning something.
Home Improvement had given way to Sex and the City. And in the background, Claire was aware of Carrie and the girls discussing the differences between New York and Los Angeles. Claire could identify with that since she'd lived in both areas and had experience with guys in each, too. Bill, on the other hand, seemed okay with not rushing anything.
And that was a turn-on, which probably wasn't his intention. Then again, maybe it was. She gave a soft groan as they both broke the kiss within seconds of one another to take a breath. She shifted on the couch and slid her arms around his neck, drawing him to her.
He kissed her again, sliding an arm around her to offer her support as he moved with her to slide onto the couch. She was very glad she had changed from the skirt she'd worn to work into a pair of jeans before coming over here.
She slid one of her hands to his jaw, brushing the bit of stubble there with the back of her hand before moving the hand to his shoulder. His lips parted a little, but he didn't try to force his tongue into her mouth or anything. She darted her tongue along his lower lip, initiating the idea of taking the kiss to the next level.
He took her invitation, dipping his tongue into hers. He was sweet about it, which she appreciated. She'd kissed guys that didn't seem to understand that having a tongue shoved against the back of your throat wasn't a turn-on. Bill understood that and kept his tongue moving against hers at a pace that was slow but not too slow.
He groaned when she arched into him, instinct kicked in she guessed. He broke the kiss again after she draped a foot over his calf, locking him in place. He pressed himself against her, his hand at her back rubbing lightly. His thumb stroked against the clasp of her bra back there, which is when he drew away.
"Might be more comfortable upstairs."
"Probably so," she whispered, trailing a fingertip along his jaw to his chin. She tapped his mouth with it and he parted his lips, nipping the fingertip lightly. Her eyes fluttered closed as he darted his tongue along it. They both froze when they heard movement upstairs.
"I almost forgot she was here."
"Me, too," Claire admitted, feeling guilty that was the case.
"I," he shook his head, drawing away to sit on the edge of the couch. He set his hand against her thigh, though, as if he didn't want to completely stop touching her. "I can't take you up there."
"I understand," she whispered.
"It's not from a lack of wanting to."
"I really do understand."
"It's just, I know she's old enough to realize how things work, but if I start bringing women into my bed…"
She sat up, pressing her finger to his lips again. This time for a different reason altogether.
"I said understand, Bill. I really do. And I totally respect you for feeling that way."
"I could see you home…"
She laughed and shook her head. "I don't think so. Not tonight."
"Been a while since I needed a cold shower before bed."
"It has, huh?" She sat up then, fixing her shirt a little.
"I should hope so."
Kylie came downstairs then.
"Hi," she said, glancing at both of them. It had to be obvious they were doing something by how close they were sitting together on the couch. Not to mention Claire's hair probably looked a mess.
"Hey, Kylie. You got your fill of pizza and soda?"
"Is it okay if I stay over at Tina's house tomorrow?"
"It's Friday night, I don't see why not."
"Thanks," she said, walking toward the kitchen. "Good night," she said when she came back, hands empty.
"Good night," Claire said.
"See you in the morning."
"I should go," Claire said when Kylie had gone back upstairs.
"You don't have to."
"I know, but I told my mom I'd call her tonight."
"Oh. It's kind of late, isn't it?"
"She's three hours behind us."
"That's right. I'll walk you out."
Lucky was easy to round up. As soon as he saw Claire he bounded to her side, following her to the car.
"Since it seems I have a night's reprieve from example-setting duties, care to go out tomorrow night?"
"All right. It's a date." He stepped closer, giving her a kiss. "I'll see you tomorrow then."
"You would have anyway."
"Good night, Bill."
"Night, Claire. Drive safely."
"I will," she said, holding the door open for Lucky to get into the backseat before getting in. He closed the door for her and stood on the driveway until she backed out and started driving away.
"Well, that wasn't at all what I was expecting," she said to Lucky, glancing at him in the rearview mirror. He, of course, didn't answer. "You either, huh? Well, we'll see what happens tomorrow night."
Story ©Susan Falk/APCKRFAN/PhantomRoses.com