Word Count: 2,277
She'd made it through the summer. She'd made a couple of friends in California but none she had gotten close to or anything. She was going to college in the fall so she didn't see much point in trying too hard. There was a guy who lived down the street from her parents house who was her age and he'd been nice to her from almost the first day she showed up at her parents house. She wondered if her mom or dad had put him up to it, but he'd seemed genuinely nice and so they'd hung out a lot. She'd been surprised that he hadn't tried to hit on her or anything. Not once. She was glad, though, because as much as she knew she probably should, she wasn't ready to move on.
California wasn't too bad. Growing up in Texas, she was used to hot summers so that was nothing new. Being able to go to beaches and Disneyland was definitely cool. James had taken her there once when she said she'd never been. He was a nice guy, but was in Oregon now for school. She imagined she'd see him over breaks, but he had other friends he'd known all of his life so she wasn't counting on seeing much of him.
She was in Iowa. It was one of the schools she'd been accepted to that her dad approved of. She wished she could tell him it was none of his business, that she was an adult and able to go wherever she wanted to. But he was footing the bill.
And she loved him.
She knew he still loved her, but their relationship had been strained all summer. That night in Nathan's kitchen was the last time she'd seen her dad not someone hell bent on keeping her safe. She missed it, that dad. He hadn't mentioned Taylor or the reason she was suddenly living in California once all summer. It was funny, really. She'd spent most of her time while in New York wishing to be able to see her parents again, especially her dad. She got her wish and then spent all of her time with them wishing she was anywhere but there. She saw the disappointment in his eyes, but also saw concern there and so she didn't push or instigate arguments as tempting as it was some days.
She had no idea what her mom knew. Her mom never mentioned it either and Claire didn't ask. She didn't want to have THAT talk with her mother. Her father had, though, when he'd watched over her unpacking her stuff at her college dorm.
"You know that just because you've had sex with one boy doesn't mean you have to with the next one."
"I know, Dad."
"I'm just saying. Don't let someone pressure you. And don't think it's no big deal, because it should be every time. No matter who you're with."
"You don't think I know that? You think I was being casual?"
"I don't know what you were doing and I really don't want to know. I just don't want you to think because you have means you have to again."
"Well, I hope I will again some day."
"That's not what I meant."
"I know," she whispered, tearing up a little. She tried to stop them, but she knew her dad saw them. She hated letting him see her cry, letting him know that it still hurt so bad.
"What about that James?"
"What about him?"
"You'll see him over breaks, you can keep in touch while at school."
James just didn't interest her. He hadn't hit on her, so she assumed the feeling was mutual but maybe not.
Her roommate had gotten there earlier that day. Not wanting the tension between her and her dad to get Tina down Claire suggested she and her father get something to eat before he left.
"It's not a bad town," he'd said as they drove through the college town.
"No, it's not," she agreed. It wasn't New York, though.
He dropped her back at her room after an uncomfortable dinner. Obviously, the sex talk was done and so he didn't know what else to say to her. He had an early morning flight tomorrow so she wouldn’t see him again until Thanksgiving. She couldn't help but think that maybe that was for the best right now. The summer hadn't been terrible between them, but things were definitely not normal.
He felt betrayed and she felt as if he was treating her like a child. Yeah, Taylor was older and she wasn't eighteen, but just barely. And it wasn't as if he'd taken advantage of her, but her dad had seen it as her taking advantage of living somewhere with more leniency in the rules. And he was right, she supposed, the opportunity to be with Taylor would never have come up if she'd been living with her parents even if they'd met.
It was after dark when Adam showed up her second night in Iowa. She hadn't seen him over the summer. He'd been traveling (whatever that meant), but through emails he knew when she was scheduled to arrive here. And when her father was scheduled to leave. So she wasn't too surprised to see him at her door.
"Iowa, huh? You couldn't have waited to get into trouble until after you were in a more exciting place than this?"
"What are you complaining for? You don't have to live here."
He chuckled. "Oh, but I will have to spend a good amount of time here over the next four years, so I may as well."
"You don't have to."
"Of course I do," he said, taking her into his arms. He kissed the top of her head. Tina was out doing something so they were alone and Claire lifted her head to meet his mouth with hers. She kissed him as she'd never kissed him before. Always she'd held back, not wanting to give in too much afraid she'd go back on her desire to have a life that didn't involve being a part of the Adam and Claire eternity show.
Tonight, though, she held nothing back. Her arms went around his neck and she drew her body against his, pressing into him as she parted her lips. He groaned in response, surprised evidently. Her tongue found his, needy for the intimate contact she craved so badly just then.
He kissed differently. She hadn't kissed anyone but Taylor like this and she was expecting it to be the same. Not an exact duplicate, but the same in a way. She slid a hand out from around his neck and lower, over his chest, which she skimmed lightly with her fingertips before reaching the front of his jeans.
He bit her tongue a little and moaned, pulling away.
"Look at me."
She did, eyes meeting his.
"I know where your mind is and it's not on me. I won't do it, won't have deception between us when it comes to any aspect of our relationship but particularly that."
"I thought you wanted to have sex with me."
"That may be true, but if you think I can have sex with you knowing in the morning you'll wake up to regret it you're sorely mistaken."
"But I won't."
"Of course you will. It's not me you want, it's him. He's not here, I am, and you know I'm attracted to you. Want you."
"You make me sound so cold and calculating."
"No, just confused. I won't be the way you work your feelings for him out. You have to do that on your own."
"I do not know the answer to that. Meet people."
"I did that this summer. No one appealed to me at all."
"So, I'm the first person you've thrown yourself at then?"
"When I'm not and if you decide you want me not him then feel free, but until then."
"Why'd you come here then?"
"I'm sorry, since when would sex with you be the reason I came to visit you?"
"Well, you know it didn't work with Taylor."
"So, you figured I'd assume you were ready to give up on your dream? You're more persistent than that, Claire, and I'd be disappointed if you let one mishap interfere with your desires."
"I don't know what I want."
"That, I think is the point I was trying to make. You're still hurting, raw. I do know how it feels. Centuries experience or not, losing someone you love for whatever reason is not easy. And in your case," he shrugged.
"Well, he seemed all right with your ability."
She knew he'd encountered more than one woman who hadn't been all right with what they could do.
"Yeah, he did."
"I'm here if you need me, Claire, for anything."
"Except comfort sex apparently."
"If it wasn't so obvious you hadn't been with anyone since him I might have reacted differently."
"How could you tell?"
He shrugged. "It's hard to explain, just a neediness to you that wouldn't have been there if you'd bedded someone else."
"I can't do that."
"I think your history says very different."
"That was one time and was so not the same as what we're talking about now."
"Still, you can do it if you put your mind to it."
"Okay, I don't want to do that. Is that better?"
"You could always call him."
"No, I can't."
"Why not? You have his number I presume."
"Yes, but I don't want to risk it."
"You're over eighteen now. You're no longer under the roof of either of your fathers. They can't stop you now."
"You don't know my father."
"I do know him, Claire, but what's he going to do now? He can't threaten him with charges being pressed against him any longer."
"He knew when I turned eighteen."
"And you think he'd pursue you knowing you were the reason he'd lost a job?"
"Well, if he wanted me."
"I can't make up your mind for you, Claire."
"So, you're not here for me."
"I am, but I cannot make decisions for you! That's for you to do. You wanted at least one lifetime of independence from me so you have it. That means, however, you have to take the steps I have, make the mistakes I have, and right the wrongs you've made along the way."
"You think I wronged him?"
"I think if I was in his shoes I'd have wanted my woman to fight for me. He's a fighter as I am, he would expect you to show the same persistence he does when he's in the ring."
"So, I was supposed to let him get arrested? How would that help him?"
"And they would have been able to prove you'd had sex?"
"Well," she stammered. "I guess not technically, no."
"No DNA either, I presume?" She blushed deeply and he laughed. "Oh come on, what's to be embarrassed about."
"I don't know, it's just weird talking to you about this, but no. He always used protection."
"Well, I'm sure these very thoughts crossed his mind as being a way around any legal issues and last I checked there's nothing illegal about just sleeping with an underage woman. It's the act of sex that crosses those legal lines."
"My dad would have known I was lying."
"Well, it seems you've made your choice then. You'd rather please your father than be with the man you want."
"He was my first real boyfriend."
"What does that have to do with anything?"
"The chance I would actually end up with him."
"Well, you've certainly seen to it they are impossible now."
"I didn't do anything! I told him to take the job reference. He'd worked so hard at getting out of his dad's business I refused to be the reason he got sucked back into it."
"And that would have been his only alternative? Get the reference from Nathan or return to the fold of the mobsters he despises?"
"You're not helping."
"Life isn't easy, Claire. Even for people like us."
"I'm not going to call him."
"All right then."
"It's too late."
"Clearly, it's settled. So, move on. You're in college, even if it's in Nowheresville, enjoy it."
"I'm going to try."
He kissed her, barely brushing his lips over hers just as Tina walked through the door. "The next time you kiss me like you did earlier, Miss Bennet, you better be darned ready to see it to completion."
"And if I'm not? If I get cold feet?"
"I can forgive and accept cold feet. Know this, once I have you that way I will not give you up for any reason. Good night," he said, nodding briefly in Tina's direction and was gone.
"Boyfriend?" Tina asked.
"No, just a friend."
"I wish I had friends who looked like that."
"He is pretty nice to look at," Claire admitted. "Did you find any parties?"
"A couple on Greek Row."
"Up for it?"
"Sure," Tina said.
"Great, let's go," Claire said.
She really had no huge desire to party her first real night here, but she didn't want to sit in her room and think about all of the stuff Adam had said either. They'd made their choice, both of them. He could have spoken up, said something if he wanted to do something differently. He hadn't, so that meant to Claire he'd accepted the way things had to be. It didn't make it any easier.
It hadn’t helped she was a glutton for punishment, searching a couple of times for hits on Benny Chains’ name on the Internet. One day, she’d finally hit pay dirt. At least the kind she was looking for in the form of photographs from the baptism of Benny Demarat’s first grandson. There was one photograph in particular she’d printed a copy of. It was of Matty surrounded by Taylor and who she presumed was Chris on either side of him. Matty was proudly holding his son up in such a way that all three of the men were able to look at him. It was a priceless picture, the smiles on all three men so genuine and real there was just no way it was fake.
There was another she liked of Matty, Buffy, and Matthew Junior with Taylor and Willow, who she presumed was Buffy’s friend and the godmother.
There were plenty of other pictures. It seemed Benny Demarat gave the media pretty generous access for the day. It was hard for her to remember seeing these pictures that the man made a living at the expense of others. She saw the guy she presumed was Chris in a few pictures with a girl. Always, though, the pictures of Taylor she saw he was alone. She’d felt elated at seeing that for some reason.
Story ©Susan Falk/APCKRFAN/PhantomRoses.com