Word Count: 7,000
“I’m glad we got one night together here before we have to deal with my family,” she said.
“Why?” he asked.
“Because the last time I was here,” she shrugged.
“Yeah, I remember. I see what you’re saying, so yeah, me, too. Don’t think it was easy for me, you know. I had more than just a few sleepless nights because I remembered you being in my bed.”
“Well, now you don’t have to just remember.”
“Damn straight,” he said, letting his hand graze along her hip before cupping her ass. She gave a soft groan at his touch even though they’d had sex an hour ago. “You look very good here, too.”
“Good enough to keep?”
“Don’t tempt me.”
“Tempt you how?”
“I don’t know. Kidnapping you and keeping you here instead of going back to Iowa with you.”
“Can’t kidnap the willing.”
“And I repeat don’t tempt me. One of us has to finish college. Your family would crucify me if you dropped out.”
“I could transfer. NYU is a great college.”
“No,” he said. “It’s only a couple of years. I can handle Iowa for that long. You’ve got a good thing going there, and honestly so do I.”
“I know,” she said, pressing against him as his hand skimmed along her thigh. He wasn’t looking for sex, she could tell, more of an assurance that she was really here with him. She had somewhat of a hard time believing it herself. A part of her thought she made it far too easy on him, but she’d known from the moment she saw him at the bar that she missed him too much to play hard to get.
Both were quiet, touching one another as they put off getting up for their day. A day that would put her and Taylor under close scrutiny by the Petrelli’s. As well as others, she imagined.
“She’s going to do it while I’m here this weekend, isn’t she?”
“I would assume so,” he said. “She told me Thanksgiving or Christmas. You’re here for Thanksgiving, so it stands to reason.”
“I’d feel a lot better if you could stay with me there. I don’t get why you can’t. Why we have to hide out here like we’re doing something wrong.”
“Baby, it’s one thing to know you’re living with me out in Iowa where no one actually sees us cohabitating. Another to have me share your bed while you’re here for a visit. Besides, it’s not like we’re at a hotel. This is my house, where you’ll live one day so may as well get used to it.”
“It’s just like it matters. How is it any better we’re here at your house then there at Nathan’s? What would they do if I never want to get married? I could be sixty and what not be allowed to sleep with you.”
“It matters to people like Nathan and your grandmother. Image is everything. That includes getting married.”
“I know,” she said, sitting up on the bed. “It’s not that I don’t want to. I was just saying.”
“At least if it’s too much we can hide out here.”
She rolled her eyes. “I think you and Angela are putting way too much thought on what effect this is going to have on me. No one’s going to really care who I am.”
“Maybe,” he said, running his hand along her arm. “It’d be nice if she’s wrong, but things like this always seem to attract attention.”
“That’s because all those guys cheated on their wives or something. Nathan didn’t do that.”
“I know that and so will everyone else, which is why I think Angela thinks it will work to his advantage.”
“I wish I knew what she got out of this.”
“It got us here. Does it really matter?”
“I don’t know. No, it shouldn’t, but there’s a part of me that wonders.”
“Me, too, but I haven’t wondered too hard on it. Notice even your father hasn’t said much about you living with me.”
“I know. Shocked the hell out of me.”
“I think that was Angela’s influence.”
“My father is not her son.”
“No, but I’m sure she could make him see reason just like anyone else. She didn’t have to convince me too hard, but she didn’t hold back anything either. You know? She dangled the carrot on a stick in front of me, just in case I wasn’t sure.”
“I don’t think my dad has a carrot.”
“I’m sure she’s got something to use for or against him. People like her, they collect information, every morsel they can find and save it until they need it.”
“You make her sound so diabolical.”
“Her son’s running for president. She has to be that and more.”
“I’m just not ready to be anything but Claire Bennet.”
“Hmm,” he said.
“What’s with the hmm?”
He sat up and kissed her shoulder. “Nothing. Just thinking you’ll have to be someone other than Claire Bennet one day.”
“Yes, but that’s different. That’s voluntary. This is…involuntary. And I’m not going to reap any of the benefits.”
“Yeah, I mean, it’s not like I’m going to be anything but Nathan’s long-lost illegitimate daughter. I’m not going to be in the White House like Simon and Monty.”
“You’d be too old to live there anyway, sweetheart, but you can visit him. Have dinner there. Probably sleep there. Hell, you probably could live there if you wanted to.”
“God, could you imagine?”
He smirked a little, brushing his cheek along her shoulder.
“No, not really, but her doing this means she’s opening up stuff to you that was closed before.”
“Stop worrying so much. I’ll be by your side. I won’t let anyone hurt you. Her included. I’d die first.”
“I know,” she said, turning to face him and in the process settling herself on his lap. “I wish you wouldn’t say that, though, because I believe you mean it.”
“I do and I thought you wanted to get ready.”
“In a few minutes.”
“I need longer than that.”
She smiled a little. “Not this time you don’t.”
“Is that right?” he chuckled. “I don’t know I want my stamina called into question.”
“I give you permission to be fast and thorough.”
“That is something I can fulfill.”
For this, he hired a car service. It bothered her he went to the expense, but she knew it was the way people in New York did things. She just didn’t like that he felt he had to.
“I think I want to go back to Iowa,” she said when they pulled up in front of Nathan’s house.
“It’s Thanksgiving dinner. There’s no one here but your family.”
“What better time to do it, though. Don’t you think? When everyone’s gathered here for dinner like a family.”
“I suppose you have a point. Maybe I should worry about you becoming diabolical, too.”
“Nah, I wouldn’t come close to being in Angela’s league.”
“Wait until you have a son who is on the fast track to being president and tell me that again. Something tells me a mama bear would pale in comparison to you.”
“Yeah, yeah, I’ll pretend I don’t think there’s an insult in there somewhere where you’re comparing me to a bear. Let’s go eat turkey and watch football like we don’t have a clue anything’s going on. And then I have to meet your mother.”
“She won’t bite. She leaves that to me. I promise.”
They were both dressed as nicely as the occasion called for. It’d been a while since she wore clothes like this. She had a few of her nicer things in Iowa with her, but there hadn’t been much reason to wear them really. No fundraising galas or press conferences. Her father hadn’t said a word when he listened in on the conversation that Claire had with her mother telling her which dresses she wanted sent to New York. And to which house in New York they were being sent to.
She couldn’t believe how big Simon and Monty had gotten since she’d seen them last. They were in the Hampton’s with Heidi last summer when she’d been here so it’d been well over a year. Heidi knew the truth by now, and with that disclosure she’d come back to Nathan.
Claire wasn’t sure why that was the case, but she imagined she realized if Nathan was admitting a secret like that to her he had few secrets left to reveal. They were still working on things, but just like her parents no marriage was perfect all of the time. Claire was just glad they were together, that the possibility of working it out was there.
Taylor didn’t stray from her side very often or for very long. A couple of times he left her in Peter’s capable hands to use the bathroom or let Simon or Monty show him something with the videogames they were playing.
“He’s good with them,” Peter said.
“Yeah, I never realized they knew him that well.”
“I don’t think they do. Not in any real sort of way. He was kind of a makeshift babysitter the times Nathan and Heidi met.”
“Oh,” Claire said, realizing she hadn’t even thought about those visits. Nathan would want to see his sons, of course, but his priority ultimately was getting Heidi back.
“You’re doing well out there?”
“Yes,” she said. “It’s not great. I mean, the college is. I enjoy my classes and stuff, but oh my God, Peter there’s nothing but corn there.”
“It can’t be that bad. I mean, come on, it’s not like Odessa was a metropolis.”
“Well, no, but we weren’t real far from Dallas or San Antonio. Houston either, really.”
“Not much farther from where you are to Chicago or Minneapolis.”
“As if I have time.”
“I imagine when he starts fighting you’ll find time to travel.”
“His fights won’t all be in Iowa.”
“I know that,” she said with a frown. She did know that, but she hadn’t really thought of it like that.
“So, classes and everything.”
“Nathan said you were in a play.”
“Just a small part. An extra. You know, someone to stand there on the set to make it look like there was something going on.”
“Did you like it?”
“Yeah,” she said with a nod. “I did. It was real fun. I’ll go out for the next one, too. They’re always looking for help offstage, too, which I thought about. It looked kind of fun.”
“Well, good. You need something to do besides just study.”
“Have you seen Adam lately?”
“No, I haven’t since the summer. Why?”
“Just wondered. I haven’t either. No one has, but Mom says he does that sometimes. Drops off the grid.”
“He’s probably drinking and fighting his way through Mexico or something.”
“The fighting part I can see, not sure about the drinking part.”
“Well, see, we can’t get drunk, but other people don’t know that.”
“Ah, I see. So, he lets his opponent think he’s impaired.”
“You speak from experience?”
“I’ve watched him initiate a fight or two.”
“Huh. I didn’t know.”
“There was usually a reason. Some guy being a jerk to his girlfriend or a waitress or something. Enough about Adam when he’s not here and we don’t know anything about what he’s doing. How are you?”
“Good. The same.”
“Who’s the woman?” she asked.
“Just a friend.”
“What? She is. She’s alone for the holiday, so I invited her.”
“That was nice of you. She’s pretty,” Claire said. “I think she’s starting to panic that you’ve left her alone for too long.”
“Yeah, probably so. If I’m not careful Mom will start talking china patterns with her.”
“Better you than me.”
“I bet it’ll happen to you before it does me.”
She shook her head, but couldn’t deny it outright.
“Yeah, that’s what I thought.” He kissed her on the cheek. “I’m glad you’re here.”
“Me, too,” she said before he returned to his friend’s side. She did look mighty uncomfortable. Claire couldn’t blame her. The Petrelli’s could be overwhelming on a normal day let alone a holiday.
Eventually, they had dinner and dessert. Angela knew that Claire and Taylor were planning on going to his mother’s and she actually seemed pleased by the news. So pleased, in fact, that dinner was conveniently done a little earlier than planned.
It was while on the way to Taylor’s mother’s they heard the news break. Claire understood now why Angela was in favor of them leaving. The information was leaked, but she was giving Claire a bit of a reprieve by allowing her to get away from the Petrelli house before the news broke.
“I thought for sure she was going to have you there when it broke.”
“I’m sure she’s saving that for the press conference.”
Claire let her head rest against the seat’s headrest as they were driven to his mother’s. She was a ball of nerves over meeting her. Taylor clearly looked up to her, loved her as she’d been the only parent he’d been able to count on growing up.
She didn’t know the whole story with his father, but didn’t need to know it all. The man was a jerk. Normally, she’d tell people she was sorry to hear a parent was dead, but she never once said that to Taylor because she thought he was better off without him.
His mother was beautiful. Elegant. In a way Angela wasn’t. Angela always seemed to be about appearances, what other people would think of her and her family. Dressing for a part she was supposed to be playing. Mrs. Reese was just one of those women who exuded class and elegance naturally. Claire imagined she’d come across the same way in jeans and a sweatshirt.
From the teasingly spoken “So you’re the woman that has my son living in Iowa of all places.” To her offered hand, clearly meant for Claire to take and shake daintily not the way her father had raised her to shake hands. Claire just knew she was a sincere and good woman.
Claire had to admit, it was a great distraction from what was going on elsewhere in New York because if his mother had a clue who Claire was she didn’t let on that it was a big deal to her.
Since they’d all already eaten, they just had (more) dessert and something to drink. Her house wasn’t as big as Taylor’s, but it was done nicer. Homier, though she knew Taylor had made some changes to his house since the first time she’d been there.
Another handshake as they left for Claire, a kiss to both cheeks for Taylor. She seemed to understand this was all of the time she’d get with Taylor this trip. Claire felt a little bad for that, but she didn’t seem to be at home pining away for visits from him either.
The part of the trip Claire was looking most forward to, and probably Taylor too, was seeing Matty and Buffy for breakfast Friday morning. They’d gotten home from Taylor’s mother’s house and watched the news. Other than Peter and his friend leaving, the media got no footage at the Petrelli household.
Nathan had called Claire on her cell shortly after they’d gotten back to Taylor’s house.
‘I don’t suppose you’ve heard the news,’ he said.
“Uh, yeah,” she replied.
‘Well, I’ve planned a press conference for tomorrow afternoon outside the house. It would be nice if you could be there.’
“I figured as much,” she said.
“It’s okay, Nathan, it’s not your fault someone dug too deep and got information they shouldn’t have gotten.”
‘Yeah, I’m not sure how it happened, but it’s out so we may as well deal with it.’
“Sure. We’ll be there.”
‘Okay. Have a good night.’
“You, too, Nathan. Good night.”
‘Happy Thanksgiving. I don’t know if I actually said that to you earlier.’
“No you didn’t, and thank you. Happy Thanksgiving to you.”
‘Did you call your parents?’
“Yeah, just a few minutes ago.”
‘Good. I bet you wish you were with them now instead of Christmas.’
She smiled a little at that, at his seeming concern for her feelings. Maybe it wasn’t seeming, perhaps he was sincere. It was hard to tell with Nathan.
“It’s okay, Nathan. Honestly.”
They hung up then and Claire had spent a better portion of a half an hour deciding what outfit to wear the next day. Taylor laughed at her. He couldn’t understand. Well, maybe he could in a way since his parents were never married and he grew up under the scrutiny of a lot of people. They were the mob and not the media but still.
Friday morning, though, she could relax. Matty and Buffy got there early. Early for a college student, for parents of a toddler probably not. Claire was looking forward to this part of their trip the most because she’d genuinely liked Buffy – and Matty, too – when she’d met them before.
And their son was adorable. Buffy let Claire hold him and he was just one big smile. She’d never held a baby before, other than Lyle maybe when he was a baby. None of her friends had kids and she hadn’t known Simon or Monty as babies.
“Be careful,” Matty told Taylor.
“That look,” he said.
“What are you talking about?”
“I’ve seen it on every woman we know who is in a position to possibly have kids when they get around Matty Junior.”
Taylor regarded Claire and Matty Junior then. Claire tried to pay attention but Matty Junior was entranced by the necklace and earrings she had on and she had to work at keeping him from putting the charm in his mouth.
“It’s like it flips a switch in them. Normally sane, rational women go nuts and get this look in their eye that says they want one, too.”
“Has it caused anyone else to actually have one?”
“A couple women in Matty’s office are expecting now.”
“Well, that’s not unusual for a large company.”
“My sister and Xander are trying.”
“Oh,” Taylor said.
He came to sit next to Claire, taking Matty Junior from her. He was old enough now his head didn’t need supporting, but she noticed that he still instinctively put his hand there. She imagined he’d had plenty of experience with babies growing up with so many people in his life.
“And well, it apparently wore off on us, too,” Buffy said.
“You said you were thinking about having another one.”
“Apparently we don’t have to think too hard on the subject,” Matty said.
“Wow. Congratulations,” Taylor said, offering Matty Junior a smile. “Listen to that, you’re going to have a brother or sister.”
“That’s great,” Claire said. “How far along are you?”
“About twelve weeks. Just saw the doctor for the first time last week.”
Matty Junior started to get fussy so Claire took him from Taylor and stood with him, bouncing him gently as she brought him to Buffy. He quieted down before she got him back to his mother so Claire sat back down with him.
“You probably scared him,” she said with a laugh as Taylor draped an arm around her.
“Yeah, that’s me. Big and scary.”
“No, he loves you. He’s just cranky. It’s still early for him. He’d usually just be waking up now at home,” Buffy said.
“Oh, yeah, I suppose, time change,” Taylor said.
“Yeah. It was better when he was a baby. Now it seems to affect him more,” Matty said.
Claire was playing Peek-A-Boo with him when Taylor leaned toward her.
“So, is Matty right?”
“This giving you ideas?”
“I don’t think I’d be human if it didn’t.”
“So, that’s a yes.”
“It’s a ‘he’s an adorable baby and incredibly well-behaved one at that so it’s tempting to picture’.”
“I see,” he said.
“Why? What are you thinking?”
“I’m thinking that it’d be real fun to try.”
“Taylor,” she whispered, knowing she was blushing.
“What? It would.”
“I thought you weren’t sure.”
“I’m not, but I’ll never know if I don’t try.”
“Well, you have a while to think about it yet.”
“Why a while?”
“I have to finish school.”
“Buffy’s going to school.”
“We’re not married,” she pointed out.
“You’re right. No kids without being married. I wouldn’t do that to a kid, even if we got married later.”
Her cell phone ringing interrupted the conversation. She shifted little Matty carefully so she could slide her phone out of her pocket.
“Hello,” she said.
‘If it isn’t the lady of the hour,’ Adam said.
“Ha ha,” she said, handing Matty Junior to Taylor as she stood.
‘How are you?’
“Considering? I’m fine.”
‘You do sound remarkably composed. You’re there, I assume?’
‘I meant New York in general.’
‘At Mr. Reese’s?’
‘Is he there now?’
She frowned, glancing at Taylor wondering why Adam was wondering if Taylor was here. “Yes.”
‘Can I speak to him?’
‘I know you heard me, but perhaps the use of the word can confused you. So, I’ll rephrase. May I speak with him?’
He made a tsking sound. ‘Don’t you trust me?’
“I’m not sure.”
‘Just put him on the phone, please.’
“Yeah, okay,” she said, handing the phone to Taylor. Buffy had taken Matty Junior by now anyway so his hands were free. “It’s Adam,” she said.
“And you’re giving it to me?”
“He asked to talk to you.” She shrugged again, answering the question she knew he was asking. Why was Adam asking to talk to Taylor? She honestly had no idea.
“Okay,” he said, taking the phone from her. “Hello.”
He glanced at Buffy and Matty, then at Claire. “Yeah, just a second,” he said. “I’ll be right back.”
“Are you feeling all right this time?” Claire asked.
“Yeah, thankfully, I seem to do well being pregnant.”
“I’m not sure I would have wanted to try again so soon if I’d been miserable the first time around,” Buffy said.
“I think I might have been able to convince her,” Matty said.
“You know it’s so weird coming out here. Our house is totally baby proofed,” Buffy said. “Matty’s dad says he doesn’t care, but there are things in his house that I know are valuable and I wonder sometimes what he’s thinking not worrying about a toddler roaming around. So, I always have my eyes on him.”
“He does fine,” Matty said.
“I know, but I still worry. That’s all we need is him breaking something that meant something to your dad. Or here to Taylor.”
“It’s just stuff, Buffy. My dad’s just happy we bring him out here as often as we do. I think he was afraid he’d never see us.”
Taylor came back into the room then, handing her phone back to her.
“Come with me a minute,” he said.
“All right,” she said with a frown. What in the world had Adam said to him?
“We’ll be right back.”
“So, what did he want?” she asked.
“So suspicious,” he said with a low chuckle. He took her into his arms, though, so apparently whatever he’d said hadn’t been bad or upset him.
“Well, yeah, he’s never spoken to you that I know of.”
“No, not beyond the few times he did when I was working for Nathan.”
“He wanted me to make sure to keep you away from photographers as much as possible.”
“He doesn’t think you should go to the press conference.”
“He said that it’s not good for people like the two of you to be photographed. Permanent records of you being somewhere at a fixed place in time or something like that.”
“Oh,” she said, not having thought of anything like that. “So, I can’t ever get my picture taken?”
“No, honey, that’s not what he’s saying. Something like this, though, obviously your picture would be plastered all over the New York media and probably some other papers, too. This day and age, with everything being digital, well, there’s no way we could destroy negatives or confiscate film. You know?”
“So, why did he have to tell you this and not me?”
“Because he wants me to be the one to tell Nathan you shouldn’t do it.”
“That’s not going to go over well.”
“Maybe not, but there is a way it would.”
“If I objected as your husband not your boyfriend.”
“I’m serious and I promise I’ll make it up to you in the summer. We’ll have the biggest party you can dream up.”
“It’s not about parties.”
“The press conference is this afternoon.”
“We can’t get married between now and then.”
“Sure we can. Matty’s dad knows a judge or two who’d do it for us, I’m sure.”
“And my dad?”
“What can he say? You’re an adult and I’m trying to look after your best interests not to mention keep you safe. Not just from the people Angela had in mind, but people who might come after you for your ability. You never told me that part of it.”
“What part of it?”
“That there are people who know about people like you that would like to get their hands on you. Use your blood.”
“It’s just part of who I am. It’s why I was in New York to begin with. My dad didn’t think he could keep me safe any longer; he thought The Company would get suspicious that I had an ability. I’m sure it’s why he chose Iowa as one of my choices for school.”
“Taylor. You can’t be serious.”
“I am deadly serious. I can’t think of a better way of protecting you, being able to look after you then if I have the legal right to.”
“I don’t want you to marry me out of some obligation.”
“That’s not it at all. If you think I’d ask someone to marry me just for that, you don’t know me as well as I thought you did.”
“No, I know you wouldn’t.”
“Now, if you don’t want to marry a guy like me I can understand that.”
“I never said that. I just never pictured eloping when I thought of getting married.”
“I swear that I will make it up to you this summer. A party. A proper honeymoon. The whole works.”
“Better make sure Matty’s dad’s judge friends are around today.”
“That a yes?”
“I’m still going to finish school before we try to have kids.”
“That’s a yes,” he said, capturing her mouth with a kiss.
She broke the kiss, looking at him intensely. “What about what you want? Are you sure this is it?”
“What are you talking about?”
“You have a shot at getting some bigger drawing fights.”
“Why would this stop me from doing that?”
“I don’t know,” she shrugged. “You get famous you may not find it so fun to be married to me.”
“Fun? Honey, I know enough about marriage from observing to know that marriage isn’t all about fun. And, yeah, all right, there’s a chance I could make a name for myself outside of local gyms. If anything, I’d want you there more.”
“Because all of my life, all of my fights I’ve never had anyone who hasn’t shied away from looking at me after like you do.”
“How could I not?”
He shrugged. “Some would ask how you could stand it? Blood and sweat, tears and spit. I know I don’t look pretty when I’m done.”
“That doesn’t bother me.”
“I know, and that’s one of the many things I love about you.”
“My mom’s going to kill me.”
“She can’t,” he said.
“She’ll get over it.”
“Go find out if it can even get done. Did Adam suggest this?”
“No, he just wanted me to understand why it was dangerous for you to be thrust in the limelight. I assume Angela’s plan can be carried off without your presence. At least at the press conference.”
“I hope so. I hadn’t even thought of that. I wonder how he does it.”
“I don’t know. I can imagine it wasn’t real tough until recently. Digital cameras and phones with cameras in them make it difficult not to know who’s doing what.”
“He didn’t say never, just something like this, linked with someone running for president.”
“I get it.”
“I think he wanted me to know so that I could actually keep you safe from that. I realize there are some things I may not be able to protect you from, but a camera I can do.”
“I get that, too. I honestly didn’t think about that.”
“Obviously you wouldn’t have had a reason to until now.”
Just like that in a matter of a couple of hours, she was married. No longer single. It was a frightening thought in a way that Taylor knew people who could just do that. Nathan was powerful, but she wasn’t sure he could have arranged for Claire to get married the Friday after Thanksgiving. Then, perhaps she was underestimating how powerful he was. She hadn’t asked.
Matty and Buffy had no problem standing as their witnesses so everything was all legal. As legal as a judge just signing off on a marriage certificate could be. She always thought there was more to it. Blood tests. Religious classes.
She noted that Taylor had worn a yarmulke. He’d called it something she didn’t understand and she realized there was a whole side to him she knew next to nothing about. Her parents were Christian and had raised her that way, but they hadn’t force fed it to her or anything. She went to Sunday School as a girl and continued going to church as she got older, but it wasn’t an every Sunday thing.
She’d gone to Mass with the Petrelli’s a couple of times and had been completely lost with so many things. Her parents had not gone to Catholic church. It was a lot to learn, though she discovered through observation that there were others at Mass like her, who clearly weren’t Catholic and didn’t know what to do.
He claimed his religion wasn’t a big deal to him and yet he’d taken the extra few minutes to find it before they’d left for the judge’s house.
The phone call with Nathan hadn’t gone well at all. She’d talked to him first, specifically asking him not to say anything to her parents before she had the chance. He wasn’t happy to keep the secret, but said he’d give her until she got back to Iowa.
His conversation with Taylor had gotten more heated, at least the side of the conversation she was privy to did. In the end, Nathan seemed to understand the dangers of her being photographed in such a situation.
“You can’t avoid the vultures forever,” he said as they sat in the family room of Benny Demarat’s house watching the press conference there. They’d had a nice lunch; Taylor seemed to think it was important to give into Mr. Demarat’s request for them to join him for a while.
“I know, but hopefully by New Year’s they’ll have better things to worry about than me.”
“I hope they do, too, because that will give me the opportunity to worry about you plenty.”
“You don’t already?”
“Now I have the legal right to. And I don’t want them watching me.”
“I see,” she said, leaning close to give him a kiss.
“Not quite a festive wedding day.”
“It’s fine. Matty called in a favor, it would stand to reason his dad would want to see you and meet me.”
“I’ll make it up to you later.”
“A thousand times yes.”
“If Matty’s dad wasn’t around I wouldn’t feel the need to wait til later.”
At the moment, Benny Demarat was dozing on a chair that was clearly exclusively his, though little Matty was crawling around his grandpa’s chair.
“I don’t think I’d do that anyway.”
“Not in someone else’s house.”
“You say that like this is a bad thing.”
“No, just interesting. I plan on seeing if I can get you to stray from that thought, though.”
“No, but one day.”
“So, he carried that off pretty well,” Matty said. “I thought so anyway. I mean, considering he didn’t know this was coming.”
“I imagine that’s why Angela said nothing about it, she wanted his reaction to be sincere,” Claire said. “Honestly, it’s probably good I wasn’t there. I’ve been told I don’t have a great poker face.”
“Me neither,” Buffy said with a shrug as she scooped little Matty up and carried him back over near them. He wasn’t really bothering Mr. Demarat, but Buffy was probably just being careful. “Must be something about us special blondes.”
“Right,” Claire said.
Claire ended up explaining to Matty and Buffy why it was so important she not be at the press conference today. They’d believed without her having to maim herself as proof, they were better people than some. So, they knew her secret. She was pretty sure she could trust them with it since she knew their secret and had even during the time she and Taylor weren’t together.
“Thanks for letting me do this for you guys. Pop enjoys doing stuff like this, even if he has an odd way of showing it in front of guests.”
“It’s fine,” Claire said with a soft laugh. “It’s neat that he likes to be involved.”
“And that’s why we live in California,” Matty said softly.
“I understand,” Claire said, which she did.
“When are you going to tell Chris?” Matty asked.
“Next time I talk to him. Now that I’m not living here he doesn’t call so much anymore.”
“He’s going to flip.”
“Yeah, probably, but that’s all right. She’s flip worthy.”
“Glad to know that.”
“You know when I married Matty’s mother I didn’t hang around with my friends all day talking. I had better, more carnal things on my mind.”
“Pop,” Matty said, though the smile gave away he wasn’t mad.
“I took my wife to bed and made sure that no one could challenge the marriage license the next day.”
“Pop,” Matty said louder, though this time the smile was replaced with a laugh. “You shouldn’t talk like that in front of Claire.”
“What? She doesn’t know how it works? Well, if she doesn’t, she should. Little Matty and another one in a few months. Your mother would be proud.”
“Thanks, Pop,” Matty said.
“On that note,” Taylor said and everyone in the room laughed. “I should be getting the wife home. Not that sitting here with you isn’t great.”
“You sure you don’t want to take little Matty for the night,” Mr. Demarat said. He still hadn’t opened his eyes or moved much, which was kind of spooky to Claire.
“Maybe another time,” Taylor said.
“Good boy,” Matty’s father said. He stood then and walked to them. He gave Taylor a hug and then took Claire’s hand.
“Welcome to the family,” he said kissing both of her cheeks.
“Thank you, Mr. Demarat.” It was hard for her to picture him as the man Taylor and Matty painted him out to be. A mobster. A killer. He seemed like a kind old grandfather, enjoying time with his family. The bodyguards outside the house, though, and the bulletproof glass told a different story.
“Come back again when Matty Junior has a playmate.”
“Pop, they can come back before then.”
“Sure they can. Anytime, Taylor, anytime.”
“Thanks, Benny,” he said, shaking the other man’s hand.
Taylor and Matty hugged before they left the house, knowing they wouldn’t see one another again for a while. Probably their next baby’s baptism.
“So what do you want to do?”
“What?” she asked.
“We don’t have to go straight home. You want to go out for dinner?”
“We just ate a huge lunch.”
“Yeah, right. All right,” he said, opening her door for her. “I just don’t want you to think I have nothing on my mind but getting you home and into bed.”
“Why don’t you?”
“Oh, I do, I’m trying to be a gentleman about it since you didn’t wake up this morning knowing you were going to be a married woman before the end of the day.”
“Let’s stop at a store, buy some wine and stuff.”
She shrugged. “Strawberries. Chocolate. Chocolate covered strawberries. Champagne.”
He chuckled. “All right.”
“And we can celebrate in your room.”
“Yeah, that, too.”
“He seems nice,” she said once he’d started the car.
“He can be, just don’t ever forget what he is. You know? Not that you’ll have many occasions to be alone with him, but that’s a pretty good rule of thumb to keep in mind. Don’t be surprised if Matty and Buffy’s next baby is named Benjamin.”
“I know. I do, and I will remember.”
“Why would they name him Benjamin?”
“After Matty’s dad. For doing this favor today.”
“Oh my God. You’re not serious.”
“Probably not, only because Matty and I have been friends since we were babies. I’m sure, though, he’ll angle for something if he can.”
“Don’t be. Matty and I know how it works. Buffy’s probably figuring it out, too, by now.”
“You should have told me.”
“This is one of the few times I’ve ever asked him for anything, it won’t happen again for a real long time. I would assume he figures he owes me.”
“That’s a story for a night that’s not tonight.”
“Okay,” she said cautiously.
“Ask me again any other time and I’ll tell you, not this weekend.”
“All right,” she said.
They stopped on the way back to his house and picked up a few things. Claire had a hard time getting her mind wrapped around the fact she was married. The judge had given her information on where to find forms on completing name changes. So much to think about. She didn’t feel any different than she did this morning. The only difference between now and then was the ring on her finger. A plain gold band was there now. He’d promised her something nicer, not that she really cared. The plain gold band seemed important to him because of his religion, something about the marriage being one of simple beauty. She’d been confused when he put it on her right finger to begin with, only to find out later that was how he was raised to do it. His mother clearly had more influence over him than he realized.
He caught her playing with the ring when he came to bed with the champagne.
“It won’t be the only one you get.”
“Huh?” she asked.
“The ring. I told you I’ll get you something bigger.”
“It’s fine, Taylor.”
“You’re fiddling with it.”
“Yeah, because it’s just now dawning on me I’m going to wear this for a very long time. I’ve worn rings before just never this type of ring.”
“That’s all it is?”
She sat up then and wrapped her arms around him. “That’s all. I just hadn’t really had a chance to sit and think about it all.”
“I promise I will make it up to you this summer. Party, honeymoon, a cruise, or whatever you want.”
“Whatever I want?”
“I like the sound of all three of those options, but the cruise I may take a rain check on for next Christmas so I can laugh at everyone stuck in winter.”
“Yes,” he said simply. “Whatever you want. I’m not the most romantic guy, so you may have to beat me over the head sometimes but I’ll try and do right by you.”
“You already do just fine.”
“You know you do,” she said, working his tie out of its knot and off from around his collar.
“It would seem you have something other than drinking champagne on your mind.”
“You brought a bucket for it.”
“I did,” he said.
“Then come make love to your wife.”
“I never thought hearing those words would make me hard.”
“You do. Everything about you.”
“That’s good to know,” she said, working on the buttons of his shirt.
“I have one favor to ask.”
“Just for tonight.”
“Yeah. I mean, it’s fine, but why?”
“Because I want to be in you the way I’m supposed to be.”
“You were once.”
“Didn’t finish, though.”
“Oh, right,” she said, remembering.
“You okay with that?”
“Well, then we’ll deal with it. I wouldn’t be the only one going to school pregnant or with a baby, I just don’t want to purposely do it that way.”
“For one night I’ll take the risk.”
“I swear I won’t ask again until you’ve graduated.”
She laughed tugging his shirt out of his pants. “Now I think you’re lying.”
“Maybe a little fib, yeah,” he said, leaning in to kiss her. “God you’re beautiful.”
“I won’t stop it. You’d have made a perfect kallah.”
“What are you?”
“I’m not perfect, Taylor.”
“You are, and now you have to listen to what I have to say.”
“I can learn to tune you out.”
“Yeah, women are good at that I’ve heard.”
She gave a soft laugh as they both fell to the bed.
“There’s an easy fix for that.”
“What’s that?” he asked, nipping her neck.
“I’ll try not to again for a very long time.”
Story ©Susan Falk/APCKRFAN/PhantomRoses.com