***Chapter Three***
Word Count: 5,939

Claire had no business being here. The only reason she didn't feel bad about doing it was because it was morning yet. Besides it was New Year's Eve. She was sure he had plans somewhere, doing something, but it was her excuse for coming here today. To see if he had plans. If he didn't? She was going to tell him about the party she was going to tonight. He'd never show up in a million years. He'd made it pretty plain he didn't like her in that way. Never mind her friends weren't his friends.

So why was she here making a potential ass out of herself?

She opened the door slowly, balancing the carrier and the bag she held in one hand. The squeak had to be loud enough the entire neighborhood could hear it. She'd known about it from being here last week, so she wasn't sure why it freaked her out a second time.

"Oh," his boss, Dawson said. "It's you again." He didn't look as upset about her being here this time around and she couldn't help but wonder why.

"Yeah. I just wanted not even a minute of his time today."

"You can't have it."

"I even brought coffee and donuts. For both of you," she said, holding out the carrier and the bag.

"Nice gesture, but you still can't have it."

"Come on, don't be ridiculous. I'm asking for a minute of his time."

"Last time you took longer than the five you said you were here for."

"I didn't mean to!" John said he was an ass, but surely he couldn't be this much of one.

"Either way, you can't have a minute of his time because he's not here."

"Oh," she said. She hadn't thought of that.

"His daughter's sick or something so he had to take her to the doctor."

"Nothing serious, I hope."

"I don't know. I didn't ask, none of my business."

"That his daughter is sick?"

"Nope," he said. "He called, that's all I care about."

"Okay. Well, sorry to take you away from whatever you were working on."

"I wasn't yet actually," he said.

"Oh, well, still, you're here obviously so you were doing something."

"I was working on some paperwork. Ironically, cars don't get paid for without it."

"I guess not," she said.

"So, was the coffee and donuts just for me if he was here?"


"You said you brought enough for both of us. So, does that mean you're going to take it with you since he's not here?"

"I," she frowned. She hadn't anticipated him not being here so she'd stopped at Dunkin' Donuts to buy some stuff not far from here. It was early enough she thought it was appropriate. "Well, no, I can't drink three cups of coffee."

"Well, then, come sit and have coffee with me."


"Don't tell your boyfriend this, but there wasn't a whole lot to do today anyway. I came in over the weekend to finish up as much as I could. It's New Year's Eve. I was going to cut him loose early."

"He's not my boyfriend."

"You sure about that?"

"Yes, I'd know if I had a boyfriend."

"Well, that works out perfectly then. You don't have a boyfriend, you brought coffee, I'm sitting in my office working on paperwork. You can keep me company and no one will get mad or jealous."


"You have something else to do? You brought coffee for yourself so clearly you planned on drinking it. That takes longer than a minute."

"I was going to take it with me."

"My wrecker driver should be here shortly, I'm sure he'd drink the third cup."

"Sure," she said.

"Sure you'll stay and drink it here?"

"I shouldn't…"

"I shouldn't do a lot of things, but I do them anyway because I want to."

"Sure," she said, walking toward him. If he hadn't said his other employee was going to be here she probably wouldn't have.

His office was actually somewhat clean. Even remotely organized. She supposed it had to be if he wanted to get paid. Seeing the rest of the building, though, she expected it to look like her brother's bedroom when they were kids. Like a tornado hit and scattered everything everywhere. The chair he offered her was even clean.

She set the carrier and bag of donuts on his desk, taking one of the cups for herself.

"No donuts?"

"Uh no," she said.

"Why not?"

"I don't know."

"Come on. How can you go into a Dunkin' Donuts and not buy yourself a donut?"

"I wasn't hungry?"

"It's a donut not a seven-course meal."

"I'm fine."

"Suit yourself." He opened the bag, taking a donut out before grabbing a cup of coffee. He chose one of the cream filled ones with chocolate frosting on top. Those were her brother's favorite, which was why she bought it. "So, what did you want with John?"

"I was going to see if he had plans tonight. There's a party I thought he might like to go to."

"With you?"

"Well, no, he knows other people who would be there."

"I suspect he'll be home with his kid."

"Won't he bring her back to her mom?"

"Doubt it if she's sick. Maybe," he shrugged. "I don't know. Why do you want him to go to this party anyway if he's not your boyfriend?"

"It's New Year's Eve. Everyone should have something to do."

He took a bite out of the donut, nodding a little as if he liked the bite he'd taken. Now that she thought about it there were two types of those cream filled ones. One had better, sweeter filling than the other. Christopher liked those best. He liked the other ones, too, but not as much. She didn't know the difference to choose the sweeter one.

"He's a big boy."

"He is," she shrugged.

"Where do you go to school?"


"He said last week you were in college."

"Oh. University of Iowa." He nodded as if he knew that already. Maybe he did. Why would he ask then?


"Business and English."

"Interesting combination."

"I want to go to law school afterward."


"To be a lawyer," she said. Wasn't that obvious?

"What kind?"

"The good kind?"

He scoffed at that. "I've never met too many of those."

"Well, I have. My father's a lawyer and I like to think he's a good one."

"You're biased. Name one who isn't your dad?"

"My brother," she said.

"No different."

"I don't know what to tell you."

"Everyone has to have goals, I guess."

"Was this your goal?"

"It was," he admitted. "Wasn't always Dawson's Garage. The building's been one for years, though. Nothing else would really work in here. A factory or warehouse of some sort maybe. Anyway. My old man died, left me some money I didn't know was coming to me. The guy I was working for wanted out. He sold it to me. Here I am."

"When did you start working here?"

"Officially? I was sixteen. I started coming around when I was around eleven, though."


"It was either that or be out on the streets. Jackson, the guy who sold the place to me, he didn't mind my coming around. He started having me do things like sweep the floors and put tools away, clean the bathroom and stuff like that. Eventually, he had me help him do things like change a tire and I watched him do everything I could."

"When did you buy it?"

"When I was nineteen."

"Really? How old was the guy you bought it from?"

"He was in his fifties by the time I bought it. No kids who were interested in getting dirty every day so I guess he was glad to see it go to someone who gave a shit, even if I changed the name."

"Does he ever come see you?"

"Sometimes. Not in a while. He moved down to Florida. He comes back up once in a while to see his grandkids, he'll stop in."

"That's nice."

"I won't lie and deny he probably saved my life."


"Gangs. Getting into trouble. Drugs. Ending up in jail or dead."

"At eleven?"

"Younger than that if you show an aptitude for something. These days I see them as young as eight and nine manning the corners, looking out for narcs. Some of them it's because their parents were in that life and they just don't know any better. Some like having cash in their pocket they wouldn't get from Mom or Dad."

"God," she said. She had no idea. She never knew anyone who had to worry about stuff like that. John was probably the most abnormal person she knew, not that she knew him real well or anything.

"John says he's good with cars. If he's working here I'm guessing you are, too."

"He's not bad," he said. Claire suspected that was as close to a compliment John's boss came to giving out. "I'm better than not bad."

She rolled her eyes, adjusting her scarf a little because she was starting to get warm now that she was sitting here.

"Anyway…" she said. She should really go and quit taking up his time.

"I won't see John until Wednesday. He's off tomorrow. If I didn't know better I'd swear he was using his daughter as an excuse to get a long weekend."

"He wouldn't do that," she said, closing her eyes. Why was she defending him? Dawson evidently noticed it too because he laughed.

"I know he wouldn't. It's the only reason I hired him."

"What reason was that?"

"He actually needed the job. I've tried to hire people who want a job but don't really need one. It's never worked out. They get lazy after a while."

"I see."

"You probably don't. I don't get the impression you've had to struggle to put food on your table over the years. It is what it is, though."

"I guess."

"So this party that you were inviting John to. Was it a date thing?"

"No, I already told you he's not my boyfriend. I'm not here to start drama at your garage. I honestly just thought he wouldn't have his daughter and might want to come."

"He doesn't strike me as the type to hang out with the same people you do."

"We're not in high school anymore."

"By what? Like six months? People's memories aren't that short, honey."

"I was just trying to be nice."

"I'm sure he'd appreciate the gesture if he was here."

"I'm not sure he would. I just thought I'd tell him about it."

She really wasn't sure at all what John would think about her telling him about the party. He probably had something better to do anyway. Then again, if he was off tomorrow, too maybe he'd have Holly tonight and tomorrow night.

"So do you have a date for it then?"


"Would you like one?"

"I'm sorry?" What was he asking her? Surely she wasn't hearing him correctly.

"I'm pretty sure you heard me."

"No, I don't want John to be there as my date. I already said that!"

"I wasn't talking about John this time."

"And you think John won't fit in," she said, eyeing him.

He was. Well. He was like nothing anyone in Shermer had ever seen before. She was pretty confident of that. Try as she might since she'd been sitting here talking to him she couldn't keep her eyes off of him. He was very nice looking and in incredible shape. Somehow she didn't think that came just from working here. He must do something to stay that way. His hair was too long. Oh sure guys she went to school with had longer hair, past their collars or whatever, but not like Dawson's. And she was pretty sure there were women who'd pay a lot of money to have their hair dyed the color of his. It was an absolutely gorgeous shade of blond.

"Try me," he said.

"You really want to go to a party full of college people?"

He shrugged. "Maybe I'm bored."

"Somehow I doubt that."

"Maybe I think you're attractive. Attractive women don't cross my path very frequently. I have to take advantage of it when it happens."

"I find that ridiculously hard to believe. Women probably bring you their cars all of the time."

"Oh, they do, and they look at me – and your friend John – like we're no better than the hired help, a means to an end. I'm sure you know the look. You've probably given it a time or two in your life."

She had.

"Why would you want to go with me then if you think I'm like that?"

"I don't think, honey, I know. I don't know if you'll ever come back here. You'll leave for Iowa here pretty soon and probably forget about ol' John and whatever brought you here last week. So, either ask now or I don't get another chance."

She opened her mouth to say no. She really did. She had absolutely no business saying yes to him. Yet. What would it hurt? It was a date. It wasn't a commitment or anything. She was entitled to have dates. She was obligated to have them in a way. Her parents would do cartwheels if they thought she had a date for New Year's Eve. Okay, they'd probably stop doing cartwheels when they saw him at their door.

"You don't have kids, do you?" she asked.

He arched a brow at that, sipping his coffee.

"You have something against kids?" he asked.

"No, just thinking about my parents."

"I see. And meeting them would happen because?"

"You ask me out on a date you come to my house and pick me up like any respectable guy would."

"Fair enough. The kids?"

"My mom sort of freaked out that I knew someone with a kid."

"Ah," he said, seeming to understand. She was pretty sure her mom had images of John trying to get her pregnant, too, even though that would never happen. She didn't want to be pregnant any more than John would want another kid. "No," he said. "That's really the only factor in deciding whether to accept?"

"No," she said.

"What other factors are there?"

"My friends."


"I think they'll wonder what planet I found you on."

He chuckled at that. "Whatever planet you want to tell them you found me on, honey."

"My name's Claire."

"Claire then," he said.

Had he really not even known her name? And she was contemplating going out on a date with him? Being alone with him for hours? He'd expect a kiss at midnight, too. That's what dates did on New Year's Eve. She blushed deeply at that thought for some reason.

"I didn't realize saying your name had that effect on you," he said with a low chuckle. "I assume whatever you were just thinking about was something good."

"It was," she admitted.

She stood then, grabbing a pen from his desk before she could think too hard on her doing this. She wrote her address and phone number on a blank piece of paper underneath the pen.

"If you're not there by nine o'clock, I'm leaving without you."

"I will be there by then."

"Okay," she said.

"And thanks for the coffee and donuts. You sure you don't want one to take with you?"

"No, I'm fine." She did take the cup of coffee she'd anticipated being for her though. He stood then, surprising her by walking her to her car the same as John did last week.

"Is it really that bad here?"

"It's pretty rough," he said.

"But it's still morning."

"School's out for the week, not that that matters because many of them don't even go anymore."

"Well, thank you."

"Sure. I'll see you tonight, right?"

"That's up to you, I guess."

"Oh, unless the address is a fake one."

"You can call John and ask him if it's real."

He chuckled softly at that. "Somehow I'm not sure he'd appreciate me doing that."

"Why not?" she asked with a frown.

"Never mind, honey. You go on with your day. I'll be there by nine."

"My name's Claire!"

He chuckled a bit at that and she realized he'd done it this time deliberately. She was such an idiot.

The wrecker was driven onto the parking lot as she was leaving. She watched in her rearview mirror as Dawson and the other guy stood talking to each other. They were obviously watching her drive away. She was used to looks from people for her car, but they'd both already seen her car so she wasn't sure why they'd keep staring at it.


"Why are you so jumpy, Claire?"

"I'm not," Claire said.

She was so hoping her parents would be gone soon. That was why she'd told John's boss nine o'clock. Her parents had gone to the party at their country club every year for as long as Claire could remember. Tonight was no different, they were just taking their time about leaving. If they were already gone they wouldn't have to meet him and her mom wouldn't freak out about her having a date with someone in his twenties.

"Well, whatever the reason you drive safe tonight."

"I will. I'm not driving anyway. A friend of mine is picking me up."

"Not the same friend who came here last week?"

"No. Why?"

"Because you don't need to be mixed up with people like that."

"People like what, Mother?"

"Irresponsible people."

"People make mistakes, Mom."

"Mistakes don't result in children, Claire."

She rolled her eyes at that. Mistakes very often resulted in children. Maybe those people weren't sixteen, but they still happened. Claire's friend Janis at college was twenty years younger than her next closest sibling. Her parents had had their oldest two kids when they were eighteen and twenty. Nineteen years later they evidently got the surprise of their life when they found out they were pregnant with Janis. They loved her, wanted her, and were married and everything, but she was still a mistake. She wasn't supposed to have happened.

"As long as it's not him. Besides, I'm not worried about you, but other people drive when they shouldn't be."

"I know, Mom, I'll be fine. It's not like the party is in another town or anything."

"You look nice."

"Thank you," Claire said, glad her mom said so. She'd put more thought into what she'd wear tonight than she expected to. She wasn't sure why she was trying to impress him. He'd asked her out probably to see if she'd say yes. He might not even show up having all day to think on it. Either way, she'd go back to school soon and wouldn't have any reason to talk to him again.

Her parents left about fifteen minutes before he was supposed to be there. That was good. If her mom didn't like John she sure as hell wouldn't like Dawson. He was older. How much older Claire wasn't sure, but he had to be in his early to mid-twenties. He hadn't said how long ago it was he bought the garage.

He eyed her when she opened the door. She almost didn't. She contemplated it for about two minutes before finally giving in.

"Do you ever wear pants?"

"No," she said with a frown.


She shrugged. "I don't like them?"

"Fair enough."

"You don't like my dress?" she asked. She went through great pains picking it out. She wanted to wear something nice, worthy of a date without being too nice to give him the wrong idea.

"I didn't say that." That wasn't really an answer. It'd be kind of funny if she went through the effort and he didn't even like what she picked out.

"So, no parents to give me the third degree?"

"No, they had their own party to go to."

"I see," he said. "Is that why you told me nine o'clock?"

"Yes," she admitted. There was no reason to lie.

"Very nice."

"What? They don't need to know everything I do. And if they knew you were as much older than me as you are. Well, I'm not sure they'd let me go."

"Why not? Women date older men all the time."

"How old are you?"

"Wow. If I asked you that question I'd probably get slapped."

"You know how old I am."

"Fair enough. I'm twenty-one."

"Yeah, I'm not sure that'd fly."

"Well, we'd better go then before they come back."

"They won't be back for hours."

"No curfew for you then?"

"Not really," she said, grabbing her coat from the closet next to the door. She never really had a curfew. Her parents trusted her for the most part so they assumed she'd be home around one o'clock unless something special was going on. She hadn't gotten home until close to three o'clock in the morning Sunday after Penny's wedding. New Year's Eve would count as something special, too.

She grabbed her purse and then thought twice about taking it, grabbing just her keys instead.

"You have a pocket these can go in?" she asked.

"Sure," he said, taking them. He glanced at them. "I don't suppose I could talk you into taking your car."

"You want me to drive?"

"No. I want to drive your car."

"Oh," she said. "You're not going to get drunk and argue with me about driving home later if I think I should, are you?"

"No. I have to go back to the city, remember? I'm not an idiot."

"Sure," she said.

"Really? I was kind of joking."

"Why not? You fix cars for a living, so you must drive other people's cars to test drive them."


"What are you going to do with mine while I'm in it?"

"Nothing, just drive it and wish it was six months from now or we were living in Florida."


"So I could put the top down."

"Yeah, I'm not doing that tonight." She locked the front door behind him then and led him through the kitchen to the laundry room and the garage. She opened the garage door, shutting the door behind them.

"You must be a very good daughter."

"I try," she said.

She knew when he saw her mom's BMW, which was virtually identical to her dad's. Hers was red, though.

"I guess your dad is a good lawyer."

"He does well," she admitted.

He followed her directions to the house they were going to. They had to park a ways away since they were getting there a little later than most people arrived.

"What is your name, anyway?" she asked.


"I just realized I only know you as Dawson."

"That's what everyone calls me."

"Yes, but you have to have a first name. I can't introduce you to my friends as Dawson."

"Why not?"

She sighed softly.

"Erik," he said simply.

"Thank you."

"Sure, but Dawson works just as well. Who's going to know it's not my first name?"

"Because it'd be a weird first name."

"Maybe I had weird parents."

"Where's your mom?"

"What?" he asked.

"You mentioned your dad died, but what about your mom?"

"Oh. She's still around."

"In Chicago?"


"Do you see her?"

"When I can. She's my mom, you know, I'm not married and have no real prospects and with my dad gone for years now she seems to think her life is flashing before her eyes. No grandkids somehow means she's failed me somehow."

"You're only twenty-one."

"I try and tell her this, but there's no convincing her."

"That's so young!"

"I couldn't agree more."

She opened the door when they got there. There would be no use ringing the doorbell because it wouldn't be heard from the noise of the party. Besides. She'd been to Linda's house so many times over the years walking in wasn't anything new.

"I can take your coat," she said, shrugging out of hers before heading upstairs. He gave her his but didn't move from where she'd left him to put their coats in the bedroom that always served as the coat room.

"Don't want to venture in on your own."

"I don't think I've been around this many people in a long time."

"You said you wanted to come. What did you think I meant when I said party?"

"Oh, I don't know. I wasn't expecting this."

"Everyone's home from school so everyone is here."

"Except John."

"I guess so."

"Not in your group of friends I guess."

"Not really."

"Yet, he's your friend."

"Sort of. I wouldn't say he's really my friend. We know one another."

"Did you hear from him today?"

"No. Why would I?"

He shrugged. "Just curious."

"No. Obviously I don't know how to get a hold of him if I came to where he works twice now."

"I consider myself lucky that's the case."

She laughed softly at that, shaking her head a bit at that. "I think you're a little crazy, but let's go mingle."

She tried to introduce him to people. Some were genuinely nice to him, most were barely polite, though. She knew the tone and the look that went with it. Polite curiosity. Faux politeness so they wouldn't seem rude to her guest.

He did find a couple of guys to talk cars with so she sort of left him in their hands as she went and walked around, talking to people. Some people she'd seen Saturday at Penny and Bobby's wedding. Some she hadn't, though.

"Where's Erik?" she asked her friend Cindy.

"Uh, I saw him go outside with Brady and Marshall."

"Really?" she asked.

She went outside, found them down the street a little near Brady's car. He had an older Mustang, which was a nice car but he always seemed to have problems with it.

"Brady," she said when she got to the car. She should have grabbed her coat before coming outside, but she hadn't figured they'd be so far down the street.

"Hey Claire."

"Why are you having my date work on your car at a party?"

"He offered, man, I swear."

"He's right," Erik said.

"Really?" she asked.

He shrugged. "What can I say? I love cars. I'm just looking at something he was told needs to be replaced. I haven't touched anything or gotten all dirty. Don't worry."

"I wasn't worried," she said and he smirked a bit at that. He was teasing her! And she walked right into it. God.

He pulled out his wallet and a business card. "You give me a call and I promise you I'll fix it for far less than any quotes from around here you've gotten."

"You're serious?"

"Sure. You can just bring it in, too. The address is on the card. I'm there before seven o'clock every morning."

"Thanks, man," Brady said, taking the card.

"Now can I have my date back?"

"Sure, Claire, sorry," Brady and Marshall said in unison.

"Did you miss me or something?" he asked when they were walking back toward the house.

"I wondered where you went."

"Thought I'd steal your car?"

"If you didn't have access to better cars than mine on a daily basis I probably would think that, yes."

"What were you thinking?"

She shrugged. "Just wondered where you went."

"Where or who?"


"Your friend, Sherry, is quite friendly."

"Oh God. She came onto you? I'm sorry."

"No worries. I can honestly say I'd never expect the words that came out of her mouth to come from someone at a party like this."

"What did you say?"

"I told her that she'd have to clear my doing those things with her with you first."

"Really?" she asked.

"Yes, really. Your friends there," he said, gesturing to Brady and Marshall. "They seemed to recognize I needed rescuing and brought up his car."

"I'm sorry. I shouldn't have left you alone for so long."

"No worries. I'm a big boy, I can handle myself."

"Yes, but you asked to be my date."

"I invited myself. I'm still not sure why you said yes."

"Why not?"

"Because you don't strike me at all like your friend Sherry."


He chuckled at that.

"Is that what you want?" she asked. "Someone like Sherry? Because, yeah, that's not me."

"I've had my share of someone's like Sherry. No thanks."

"Is that why you asked me out?"


"Because I'm not like Sherry?"

"I told you. I think you're attractive. You showed up at the garage, John wasn't there. It doesn't hurt to take advantage of the situation and ask. John, my wrecker driver, said thanks for the coffee by the way."

"No, I guess it doesn't. He didn't get any donuts?"

"I think I may have forgotten to tell him about the donuts."

"Very nice."

"Well, hey, you know, they were good. And well, taking advantage got me here tonight so obviously it worked out."

"Yes, where you're having such a great time."

"It's not bad."

"Where would you have gone otherwise?"

"A bar."

"By yourself?"

"Yeah. There's one by my house that I go to after work or whenever. It's walking distance so I can just stumble home when I'm done."

She smirked a bit at that. Somehow she couldn't picture him stumbling, or getting drunk enough to where that'd be an issue. Then what did she know?

"And this is better?"

"Sure. I can at least say I did something."

It wasn't bad after that for some reason. Before that she wasn't exactly sure what to do with him. She'd never gone to a party with a date before. Not a real one, like someone asked her to go like this. She'd gone to parties with her date after dances, but that was about the extent of it. Otherwise if a guy asked her she always said she wasn't sure whether she'd be there and she'd see him there if she showed.

Driving home with him was weird. He'd given her a kiss at midnight, but it wasn't a kiss like she'd expected he'd try to give her. It was just a kiss. She'd say one like she'd give her brother, but that wasn't right. Perhaps he was just being polite. She had no idea. She was grateful because she certainly didn't want to make out with him in front of her friends or anything.

"So you're really going to fix Brady's car for him?"

"If he brings it to me, sure I will. I hate seeing people get ripped off. He said his dad knows nothing about cars so he's kind of on his own bringing it somewhere and trusting they're steering him in the right direction."

"That's nice of you, thank you."

"I'm not doing it to be nice. It's a car to work on. A nice car. He takes care of it. Hopefully, he'll tell other people and it goes from there."

"Well, it's still nice of you."

"Whatever you want to think."

Going by the lights on (or not on) at the house she knew her parents weren't home when they got back. He walked her to the door, but made no effort to come in or ask to come in. How odd. She wasn't sure what she was expecting. He was older. She was expecting him to be all over her she guessed.

"Do you have a phone number at school?"

"I do," she said. That surprised her. "You want it?"


"I, sure," she said, unlocking the door. She stepped inside then, flipping on the foyer light and reached for her purse. She always kept a small pad of paper in there. She was always thinking of things when she was somewhere inconvenient or in her car.

She wrote her number down for him, tearing off the sheet before putting the paper and pen back. She'd given him her number here at the house with her address earlier so she didn't have to again.

"So, you and John," he said.

"He's not my boyfriend!"

"Oh, I believe you. He wants to be, though."

"Shut up. He does not. He doesn't even like me!"

He scoffed. "You don't know men very well."

"He doesn't like me!"

"Okay. Well, I tell you what." He pulled his wallet out and handed her a business card like he'd done to Brady. "If he hasn't called you within a few days I owe you fifty dollars."

"I'm sorry?"

"You heard me. You call me and I'll owe you fifty dollars."

"I don't want your money." She panicked then. "You did this because of John?"

"Oh, no, I saw an opportunity and I took it. I know when interest isn't returned though."

"I'm not interested in John!"

"Sure, because anyone who isn't interested in someone comes to my garage's neighborhood not once but twice."


"Yeah. I'm not going to say anything to him, but chances are between Pruitt and your friend if he brings his car to me, he'll find out."

"I don't want him to think… I really was just trying to be nice."

"If you want to tell yourself that, Claire."

He leaned down and gave her a kiss, much like the one at the party. Certainly there was no implication behind it.

"I saw the way he looked at you."

"How was that?"

"Like he's kissed you better than that and would like to again."

She blushed then. She couldn't help it. He was still the only guy she'd actually kissed. Real kissing. She'd kissed people like she'd just kissed Erik, but that wasn't the same thing at all.

"Yeah, see. Maybe you want me to tell him."

"No! He can't come here again."

"Why not?"

"My mom," she shook her head. "She heard me talking to my dad about him, possibly needing some help getting custody of his daughter if he decides to."

"Ah, so she doesn't want the young dad anywhere near her daughter."

"Pretty much."

"Well, you want to go out again sometime before you go back to school, give me a call. Otherwise, maybe I'll surprise you and call you."

"You could. I wouldn't hang up on you or anything."

"At least I have the tools to do it now."

"You are so odd," she said.

He chuckled at that, opening the front door. "Nah, life's just too short. I had to try, though, you know. Women like you don't walk into my garage every day let alone twice in a week. It's pretty clear you like someone else, though."

"You never know, you know. One might."

"I'm not counting on that happening, but thanks."

"Hey," she asked.


"Thank you."

"For what?"

"Coming out here tonight, going to the party, and not being an asshole and trying to grope me or anything."

"Oh, I won't deny those thoughts didn't cross my mind when I mentioned it earlier, but I only had to spend about ten minutes with you to know that wasn't your thing."

"No, it's not."

"Good night then, Claire. Good luck at school."

"Thanks," she said.

She stood at the door, watching as he walked to his car. She closed the door only once he'd pulled off her driveway. He was completely insane thinking John would care she went out with him, but it was kind of fun thinking that he might. He certainly didn't seem to notice her much otherwise.

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