"He might quit if he finds out you know," Pruitt said.
Dawson shrugged. "He's not going to quit over that. And I assume he'll find out."
"I think you underestimate the kind of guy he is. He didn't like you asking about her."
"I haven't underestimated the kind of guy he is at all. Can you really blame me for trying?"
"Well, put like that if I was twenty years younger…"
"Twenty?" Dawson said with a low laugh.
"Well, on a good day," he said, holding up his bad hand. "You know, I'd have other disadvantages keeping me out of favor anyway."
"Only because you let them. I certainly didn't expect her to say yes when I asked, but figured asking was better than not asking. When's the next time someone like that's going to fall into my lap?"
Pruitt laughed heartily at that. In Dawson's eyes, Pruitt put up with too much from his wife. He stayed because he thought there was no chance of anything better out there. Dawson supposed he could be right, but man getting treated like shit and walked all over couldn't be all it was cracked up to be either. Pruitt's wife was no great catch as far as he was concerned either. Then Dawson wasn't much into disloyalty and she was pretty much the epitome of that.
"Hey, John," Pruitt said, glancing behind Dawson to the door. "How's your daughter?"
"Uh, fine. She had an ear infection. The way she was screaming in the middle of the night, though."
"Her first one?"
"Yes," John said. "Well, that I know of anyway."
"Yeah, those ear infections in the little ones can be pretty bad. They can't tell you what's wrong they just know it hurts. Glad she's okay."
"You need to see a receipt from the doctor or anything?" John asked when Dawson glanced at him.
"Nah, if it happens again over a holiday that extends your weekend by a couple of days I might."
"All right," he said.
"Glad she's all right," Dawson said.
He'd seen her once, his daughter. The mom brought her here for some ridiculous reason. He thought his friend Claire was crazy for coming here. She was an adult, though, bringing a cute little white girl to this neighborhood was bordering on insanity. Kid looked just like her old man and from what he could tell about the mother while not bad looking it was good she took after John instead of her.
"Thanks," John said.
"Did you do anything for New Year's Eve then, John?" Pruitt asked.
"Uh, no. Just stayed in with my daughter. Her mom wanted to go out. I didn't have anywhere in particular to go anyway."
"Really? Your friend came by here on Monday to invite you to a party," Pruitt said.
John frowned at that.
"My friend?" he asked.
"Yeah, you know, the girl from last week," Dawson said. "The one with the nice…"
"Dawson," Pruitt cautioned.
"Car. I was going to say car." It was a nice car. Her dad obviously paid someone good money to keep it running well because he couldn't find a flaw with the thing in the short while he'd driven it.
"She came here on Monday?"
"She did," Dawson said.
"I told her not to come back here. Is she dense?"
"I don't think being dense is her problem, no," Erik said.
"Like you'd know."
"Well, since you weren't here I offered to take her to the party instead. Four hours with someone gives you a pretty good take on whether they're dense. She wants to be a lawyer so she has to be pretty smart I'd think."
"Great," John said. "I hope you had a better time than I would've had at her parties. I couldn't stand most of those people in school."
"It wasn't bad not that I saw too much of it," he said with a wink at Pruitt.
"I guess I don't need to ask if you got your kiss at midnight then." Pruitt asked.
"I'm not even sure we knew when it was midnight."
"Dawson. You're supposed to treat women like her nicely," Pruitt said.
"I was nice! Ask her. She had no complaints when I took her home."
"Like I'll ever see her to ask," Pruitt said.
"You know other women whose parties you don't want to go to, John, you send them my way. I'm happy to help."
John walked away then.
Pruitt shook his head and stood from his chair on the other side of the desk.
"Well, I best get to work. Cars aren't going to drive themselves in here. I kind of liked the coffee she brought on Monday. Maybe you shouldn't send this one away so fast, Dawson."
"See you later," Dawson said, standing from the desk, too.
"You think the kid's going to bring his car here?" Pruitt asked.
"I don't see why he wouldn't. I told him I'd fix it for less than anything he'd been quoted out there. They were taking advantage of the guy."
"Like you've never done it."
"Only to assholes," Dawson said. Sure, he'd inflated his prices a time or two to people who were dicks to him or just in general. He was only human, but he didn't take advantage of guys who were actually trying to take decent care of a nice car.
"The kid going to vouch for your twist on the night's events?"
"He was pretty drunk by the time midnight rolled around. I'm not sure he'd be able to refute what I was implying no."
"You be careful. You may not want to poke a stick at him too much more this morning."
"He can't hurt me."
"No, but you'd hate to lose him. I know you'd never admit that, but he's a good worker. He's here on time and he's never called in before this week."
"I know," Dawson said. It was true. It sure helped take the load off him having the help. He'd tried before, giving some kids around here the chance as he'd been given. He'd gotten ripped off or cheated in the process. When John came around he'd given up hope of ever finding anyone trustworthy.
It was around eleven when the guy from the party pulled his car onto the lot. Dawson was quick to head downstairs as soon as he saw it. It was a hard car to miss. Whoever the guy had bought the Mustang from had taken good care of it and the guy was trying to do the same thing with his investment. It was nice to see.
John looked up from what he was doing. Of course Dawson wasn't around anywhere so he had to stop what he was in the middle of and handle the intake. He hated dealing with customers. Especially this morning.
She'd come here again. And she'd accepted an offer of a date from his boss. What the fuck was that? Never mind what the fuck it was. Why the fuck did it bother him immensely? He and John were talking about her as if she was just another piece of ass, which was when John had to leave the office.
"Hi," John said.
"Hey, don't I know you?"
"Me?" John said, regarding the guy. He looked vaguely familiar. "Maybe."
"You went to Shermer High, right? Graduated this spring? I'm Brady Ferguson."
"Sure," John nodded. John knew the name, but he was in Claire's crowd. "You need your car worked on?"
"Yeah, dude. I saw your boss Monday and he gave me his card, said he'd hook me up with a fair price."
"Monday night?" John asked. He had to ask. He had no business asking or even caring. He had to know though if somehow Dawson wasn't bullshitting, putting him on.
"Yeah, at Linda Montrose's party, man. He was there with Claire. Claire Standish. Did she meet him through you, man?"
"I, I don't know how they met," he said, admitting why Claire would know he worked here would be admitting more than John wanted to right now. It would certainly suggest to Brady that he and Claire were friends, which was something he was pretty sure Claire wouldn't appreciate. "Maybe she's brought her car here. Our wrecker driver maybe towed it here for her or something."
"Okay, well, anyway, he told me to bring it in. He said he got here before seven o'clock, but that was too early for me this morning."
John shook his head a bit at that. No doubt Brady had been out partying last night. As far as John knew he was at school like the rest of Claire's friends.
"Long night?" John asked.
"Dude. You have no idea. I got with Christy Benson Monday night and I didn't get home until about two o'clock this morning."
"Linda's party must have been pretty intense then?"
"Tell me about it. You should've been there, man. It was awesome. It was New Year's Eve so all the single chicks weren't quite as prudish as other days."
John rolled his eyes. "And Claire was with my boss?"
"Oh, yeah, thick as thieves. For a while they weren't, like when they first got there but I think he was just letting her do her prom queen thing. You know? She was pretty pissed off he was outside looking at my car with me, though, and then after that I don't think she let him out of her sight."
"You remember Sherry Albright?"
"Uh sure," he said. Who didn't remember Sherry? John was pretty sure he was the only one male member of the senior class she hadn't successfully hit on at some point during their four years of high school. He'd heard rumors that she was pretty…creative.
"She was all over him and he totally blew her off, told her she needed to get Claire's permission for him to do those things with her." Brady chuckled. "That's when Marshall and I brought up my car. The dude was clearly not wanting to get with anyone else. You know? So, I asked him if he could look at it. And here I am."
"Great," John said. "How lucky for you. I'll be right back then."
He went to the office to get the paperwork he'd need to fill out to take in the car. He sure wished Dawson was back here by now, but he wasn't so John did it. He'd done this before. His boss took lunch and like now just was absent once in a while.
"All right," John said. "We'll call you before we actually work on it with an estimate."
"Okay, cool, thanks. Good seeing you, man."
"You have a ride back home?" John asked.
"I do," he said, gesturing to the van waiting outside. "My buddy Marshall. It's his band van. He hauls his band's gear in it."
"Vans are good for that, yeah," John said. He wasn't sure he knew Marshall. The name didn't sound familiar, but who knew.
"Thanks, man," Brady said.
"Sure," he said.
Fuck. Could this day get any worse? He'd dropped Holly off at Betty's house and her parents had bitched at him that he hadn't called them Sunday night instead of bringing her to the doctor Monday morning. They hadn't realized until he explained to them that the screaming hadn't started until well into the middle of the night. By the time he realized Tylenol wasn't working it was pretty close to her doctor's office being open so he just took her there versus the ER. Then Betty was bitching about some crazy shit he couldn't wrap his mind around. He'd had Holly Friday night through Wednesday morning. She was upset that her usual Wednesday plans were blown because John wasn't taking her tonight, too. Sometimes he wondered if she really wanted to be a mom, or if now that Holly was walking and stuff she realized it was actually work and didn't want to bother anymore. He could only hope that was the case when he got around to talking to Claire's dad.
He still couldn't believe she'd done that.
To what end? He couldn't figure it out. He thought she was giving him some hints that she was interested. She kissed him last week. Okay, it was on the cheek, but he certainly hadn't expected to come here this week after that and hear she had a date with his boss.
The images that conjured up were kind of unnerving. His boss was a pretty good looking guy, even John had to admit that. Tall, muscular, and pretty nice hair. He wasn't the nicest guy in the world, but that didn't seem to prevent him from getting laid. Regularly. He listened to the conversations he and John had even though they didn't seem to think he paid them any attention. He just tried to stay out of things because they were clearly friends, had a history that John just didn't quite understand. He didn't have friends like that. He had people he hung out with, during high school he had people he got high with or drunk with, but he didn't have people he just sat and talked to.
So had she changed in the past eight months from the person who'd never kissed anyone but him to going out with guys like Dawson who couldn't keep it in his pants for more than a few days at a time? Brady hadn't said they'd disappeared to a bedroom together, but that didn't mean they didn't.
Dawson appeared about fifteen minutes after Brady left.
"Oh good, he brought the Mustang in."
"Yeah," John said. "Paperwork's on the dash."
"Thanks. You want to work on it?"
"Sure, I can look at it when I'm done here."
"What was his name again?"
"Brady," John said.
"That's right. Nice guy. Different than most of the other guys there the other night."
"Yeah, he's not bad," John had to admit. The fact Brady even noticed he knew John was pretty astounding for someone in Claire's crowd.
"Most of her girlfriends wouldn't even look at me."
John scoffed. "You're lucky they let you in the door."
"You have no idea."
"Why would she want to invite you then?"
"I have no idea," John said.
"Did you date her?"
"No," he said quickly.
"I think I'd remember dating her."
"Just making sure."
"It's a little late for that, isn't it? You already went out with her."
"Come on. You wouldn't have done the same thing in my shoes? You weren't here. She brought coffee and donuts. She insisted you weren't her boyfriend."
"She insisted correctly."
"I didn't see an issue."
"There is no issue."
"She's not a slut, though," John said.
"You heard me. Don't treat her like one. She's not like that at all."
"You sure about that?"
"Positive," John said, though he wasn't so positive anymore. A lot could certainly have changed. For all he knew she lost her virginity on prom night the same as ninety-nine percent of the other high school seniors did.
"Thanks for the tip."
He walked to his office then, leaving John to mutter to himself. He had not been offering him a tip! He wasn't trying to offer him any incentive to see if she was or wasn't that type of girl. The last thing he wanted was to picture them doing anything. Kissing was bad enough. Christ.
Worst day of work ever. He kept watching Dawson for any indication it was a joke at his expense. He had to admit, the guy was pretty astute for not doing more than graduate high school. John got the impression he'd barely done that. He wasn't dumb, though. Unlike John, Dawson had had something to fall back on. John hadn't had anything so going to school had been important. He knew he'd need the diploma if he wanted to do shit when it came to Holly. He'd thought about going to community college next fall, but he had no idea how he'd juggle a job, Holly, and school. People did it, though, he knew that. He'd have to figure that out, though.
It didn't seem like a joke, though. How would he have known Brady to bring him in on the joke?
So that left John with the realization that he apparently meant shit to her if she'd accept a date from his boss when she'd come here asking him to do something.
Then he hadn't given her any way to contact him. He hadn't realized she'd need or even want to.
He drove to her house again, knowing it was an absolutely terrible idea. Her mom had already slammed the door in his face once. His showing up again would probably send her into a fit. He stopped at home first to change into something that didn't make it obvious he worked at a garage.
It was her dad this time who answered and he was hugely relieved. John was tempted to talk to her father here and now, but he knew now wasn't the time.
"Is Claire home?"
"Yes. Would you like to come in?"
"Sure," John said, stepping inside.
"Is she expecting you?"
"No, sir," he said. "I was just in the neighborhood."
"Okay. Just a moment. I'll get her."
"Thanks," he said.
Now that he was here he had no idea what he was actually going to say to her that didn't come out sounding like he was a jealous fool or a raving lunatic. Both probably applied at least partially. He wasn't a violent guy. He had the image in high school of being a huge bad ass, but he couldn't stomach fighting unless it was the absolute last resort. He'd been on the receiving end of enough beatings in his lifetime to tide him over into the next lifetime and probably the next one after that. He had, however, wanted to slug his boss this morning. The only reason he hadn't? He needed the job. A few more months under his belt and he could look at another garage a little closer to Shermer and in not so shitty of a neighborhood. He needed the experience and the reference, though. Decking his boss was not a way to get a good reference he imagined. So, he'd refrained for Holly's sake.
"John," she said. "Hi. How are you?"
"Good," he said.
"Good," she said. "We should probably go…"
"Who's at the door?"
It was her mom. Of course it was. He couldn't be so lucky as to not encounter her tonight, too. Claire winced, clearly not happy. At him being here or her mom seeing he was here? It didn't really matter.
"Oh," she said, disdain and complete distaste evident in that one word.
"I'll be outside for a while Mom."
"Mother," she said. "We're just going to get some ice cream."
"Baskin Robbins is open in January."
"Erik called while you were in the shower," she said.
Claire winced again.
"I'm sorry we didn't get to meet him Monday."
"So am I Mom," she said.
"He seems very polite."
John scoffed softly at that. Claire heard him, her mom evidently did not.
"He can be," Claire said. "I'll call him back later."
"Don't forget. I told him you didn't have plans tonight."
"You shouldn't be telling people things you don't know are true for sure."
"You didn't tell me you did."
"You didn't ask! I'll be back," she said, grabbing her coat from the closet.
"I'm so sorry," she said once they were by his car.
"You seem to like apologizing to me for your mom's behavior."
"Yeah, well, she was rude."
"I get it."
"I don't. She's not usually that crazy with my friends."
"Yeah, well, none of your other friends have a kid and show up at your door all of a sudden."
"Did you really want to get ice cream?"
"I just wanted to get out of there," she said. "I really am sorry."
"You don't have other plans?"
"No," she said.
"I heard you had one Monday."
"I did," she admitted.
"You don't see a problem with that?" he asked.
"What? Going on a date?"
"With my boss?"
"Why? He asked."
"You came there looking for me!"
"I wasn't asking you out on a date."
"What were you doing then?"
"I just wasn't sure you were going to be doing anything. I was going to tell you about the party." She frowned. "You assumed I was looking for a date with you?"
"Well, it's not like we ever traveled in the same circles so it was a little strange."
"I was just trying to be nice, I swear! Erik didn't believe me either."
John scoffed at that.
"Dawson wants into your pants."
"And you don't?"
"Uh, wow, where the hell did that come from?"
"Can we just get out of here?"
"You still want to?"
"My mom is standing at a window watching us. I really don't want to talk about this on my driveway with my mom watching."
"Fine," he said, getting into his car. She did the same.
He drove her to a fast food place. They had ice cream there, but they ordered some fries and a drink, sharing them instead.
"Are you mad at me?" she asked.
"I don't really know what to feel."
"You went out on a date with my boss. What the fuck am I supposed to feel about that?"
"I didn't realize you cared!"
"Of course I care."
"You do not," she said.
"Claire," he said. "He's not a very nice guy."
"He was fine Monday night."
"I just don't want to see you get hurt."
"Like you did, you mean?"
"I did. What the fuck are you talking about? I haven't touched you or done a damned thing to you since March! I don't know how I got drawn into the topic of hurting you."
"You did nothing!"
"What are you talking about?"
"You made no effort to talk to me."
"You didn't either, sweets."
"I wanted to."
"You could've fooled me. I walked past your locker…"
"Sure you did. You didn't say anything!"
"Because you looked at me like you couldn't be bothered!"
"Because I knew kissing someone meant shit to you."
"Actually you're pretty wrong there. I don't just kiss anyone."
"I don't. I never have. I am pretty confident the night Holly came about there wasn't even a kiss involved in the process."
"So what? You kissed me and then ignored me."
"Because you were treating me like an ice queen."
She shook her head. "I've explained it already. I thought you didn't give a shit."
"That I spent a couple of hours making out with you? You think I wouldn't give a shit about that?"
"You were so wrong."
"I didn't know."
"You didn't give me the chance."
"You still wouldn't have told me about Holly," she said.
"I may have," he shrugged. He'd thought about that. "Probably not right away, no," he admitted.
"What do you want from me, John?"
"Nothing," he said, but he knew that didn't sound convincing.
"Okay. Then why show up at my house when my mom had already been rude to you once?"
"Because I don't want to see you get involved with an asshole who's going to go out with you until you give in and then move on."
"What business is it of yours?"
"Oh my God. Are you listening to yourself? You're getting mad at me for not wanting to see you get used and hurt?"
"No, I'm not. I appreciate it, I do, but I'm leaving for school again soon. How much using do you think he can do while I'm home?"
"Then you don't know me as well as I thought you did."
"I don't know what you've been up to the past few months."
"I told you not to go back there."
"I know," she said.
"I didn't want you anywhere near him."
"Because he finds you attractive."
"Why is that bad?"
"Because I don't want to see who you go out with."
"I don't know!"
She laughed then. He was glad she found this funny, he sure didn't.
"How's Holly," she asked.
"She was sick Monday, that's why you weren't at work. How is she?"
"Oh, she's all right. She has an ear infection. Some antibiotics and the doctor says she'll be good as new."
"You should've heard him talking about you."
"He couldn't have said much. We went to a party."
"You kissed him!"
"At midnight. He was my date."
"And now he's calling your house and talking to your mom."
"Guys do that."
"If she knew…"
"There's nothing to know. I'm nineteen years old. I'm single. I'm allowed to bring a date to a New Year's Eve party."
"But not with me."
"You don't like me!"
"Fuck," he whispered.
"I don't want to like you. I was doing just fine without you before seeing you at that stupid pumpkin patch. You had to talk to me."
"What was I supposed to do? Ignore you?"
"That's what your friends would have done. So, yes."
"What does that mean, John?"
"You're in fucking Iowa, hundreds of miles away and I've got a kid."
"So, I can't fucking drop everything and go see you."
"I haven't asked you to."
"But I want to!"
"I don't get it."
He shook his head and stood from the table they were sitting at. Was she deliberately being obtuse and dense? He walked to his car then and got in, waiting for her. She'd figure out eventually he wasn't coming back. He was absolutely not going to say stupid shit tonight. For all he knew she was interested in his boss. He didn't see that scenario playing out well, but he certainly couldn't stop her from dating him if she wanted to.
She came out a few minutes later with an ice cream cone. Where she got the money for it he didn't know since she didn't have her purse. Then he noticed the guy at the counter staring after her and shook his head slightly.
"You just flirted your way into a free ice cream cone, didn't you?"
"I did. I went up there with tears in my eyes."
"I didn't make you cry."
"He doesn't know that."
He chuckled softly at that. "Resourceful. I guess you got your ice cream after all."
"I sure did," she said. She held it out toward him. "Want some?"
"Of your cone?"
"Yes," she said.
He set his hand over hers and took some off the top.
"Oh come on. You can do better than that. He totally made the cone huger than he should have."
He chuckled softly and took some more.
"You're kind of weird wanting ice cream in January."
She shrugged. "I like ice cream. Sue me."
She ate more of it herself and then offered him some more. He had no idea if she was doing it intentionally or not but she sure seemed to want him focused on her mouth and he was evidently falling right for her plan.
He grabbed the cone from her, opened his window, and tossed it outside.
"Hey! I wanted that. What are you doing?" she asked as he was closing the window again.
She let out the most arousing sound when he slid his mouth over hers. He licked her lower lip, chuckling a bit at the little spot of ice cream there before finding her tongue with his. Fuck, it'd been too fucking long since he'd done this and evidently being jealous as hell that she'd gone out with someone he knew brought his need out even more.
"Please tell me you didn't kiss him like that," he whispered when he drew away.
"You're not just saying that?"
"God I love kissing you," he said.
"Want to do more of it?"
"Well, no, I was thinking somewhere else. My car. My apartment. I don't think you're going to get any more free ice cream out of that guy again, though," he said. The guy had been watching his car.
She laughed softly. "Probably not."
"We were sharing French fries, he should have known you wouldn't have been able to stay mad at me long."
"Because we shared fries?"
"Yes, that's pretty serious stuff."
"So I've heard," she said.
He chuckled softly.
"Ever made out in the backseat of a car, Princess?"
"You know the answer to that."
He took that to be no then.
"You want to find out if you like it?"
He chuckled softly. "You already asked me that. I said no, but my apartment isn't anywhere near to bringing you back home."
"Isn't it kind of early?"
"What do you mean?"
"We'd get caught."
"They tap on your window and tell you to move on, nothing more."
"You have experience with this?"
"Well, sure, I mean, it's been a while," he shrugged. "They're not going to arrest you we both know that."
"And your apartment is out?"
"Not really. I mean, it's just clear across town."
"I don't have a curfew."
"I have a job to go to tomorrow."
"Oh, right," she said. "We could go back and get my car."
"And your mom?"
"I'll tell her you dropped me off and that I'm going out."
"You sure you want to start lying to her?"
"Well, it's either that or I go home and listen to her tell me to call Erik."
"You know, I'm not even sure I knew he had a first name."
She laughed softly. "Doesn't he sign your paychecks?"
"I never cared enough to look!"
"You're so bad."
"I'll give you my address. You get there when you can."
"Gotta kick the other woman that's there already out?"
"No. I do want to make sure I didn't leave it a mess this morning when I left for work, though. I'm not used to having Holly for days on end like that."
"You going to blow me off?"
"No, I guess I'm curious enough to see where you live."
"That's the only thing driving you to come over?"
"Not the only thing."
"Would you tell me if he kissed you like that?"
"No one else has kissed me like that, John."
"That relieves me more than you probably want to know."
"Probably because I know you can't give me the same answer."
"I don't kiss women!"
"No, but you have Holly."
"That doesn't mean shit. You can't throw a mistake I made over two years ago in my face. I wasn't kissing her mother. I wasn't with her mother. I didn't go see you to mention a party and accept a date from her instead. I certainly wasn't with you when I fucked her."
"Sorry," he muttered. He had no idea why she made him act so mental and irrational. It was stupid.
He drove her back to her house.
"Do I, uh, need to walk you to your door or anything?"
"No," she said.
"I'm positive. You do that, Mom will definitely think it was a date."
"Yeah, well, I was asking more for you than her."
"I don't need you to walk me to my door. I'll be maybe ten minutes behind you. I'm just going to tell her I'm going out."
"All right. If you change your mind," he said.
She leaned over and kissed him lightly before opening her door.
"Thanks for the fries. I'll see you in a little while."
"Yeah, sure," he said.
"Now where are you going?" her mom asked.
"Out," Claire said.
"You can't just come home and go out whenever you want."
"I can, too! It's not even eight o'clock."
Her mother had this insane rule in high school that if plans hadn't been made before nine o'clock then Claire couldn't go out. So anytime one of her friends decided at the last minute to take in a late movie or go for pizza Claire wasn't allowed to go. Her mom's rationale was if they really wanted to include Claire they'd think of her earlier. Her mom just didn't get that not everyone made plans days or hours in advance.
"I don't like him coming around here."
"He's my friend, Mom."
"You have no business being friends with people like that."
"Yes, I know, because of a mistake he made when he was sixteen he should pay for it for the rest of his life. You have no idea what happened."
"Neither do you. You weren't there. He's lying to you, saying whatever he can say to get you in the same position as that other poor girl."
"Oh my God, Mom. Are you listening to yourself? Forget what you think of him, have some faith in me. You know, your daughter? That I'm not going to get knocked up before I graduate from college."
"Claire, watch your mouth."
"Quit accusing me of being a slut and I will because that's what you're saying."
"Well, I have no idea what you do when you're not home. You're away at college where there are no rules, I'm not there for you to look in the eye when you come home from things."
"What?" Claire asked. Had her mom just said that? No way.
"Okay, I'm leaving now. I won't be home until later. Much later. I'm going to a party. Or, maybe you know, a drug-filled orgy or something since that's apparently what you think I do with my time. Don't wait up for me."
"Claire," her mom said, but Claire didn't wait around to listen to any more of her mother's crazed ramblings tonight.
How could she not know her at all? She was a good daughter. She didn't embarrass her family. She'd never been arrested or anything to humiliate her father in front of his friends or associates. She didn't sleep around. She didn't even really date. She drank some, sure, but she was responsible about it because her parents had bought her a very expensive car. She smoked the occasional joint but everyone did.
(She was pretty sure her dad had at least when he was younger. Claire had no idea if her mother did anything when she was Claire's age. There were times she was pretty sure she and her brother were adopted because she couldn't picture her mom doing it with her dad to get pregnant to begin with.)
He opened his door when she got there and she didn't even give him the chance to say anything to her. She slid her hands around his neck and kissed him before she'd even taken her coat or gloves off. He didn't seem to mind, but she could tell she'd surprised him.
She reached around his neck, tugging each of her gloves off and dropping them on the floor at their feet. She worked the buttons on his shirt with shaky fingertips. She was terrible at it. How hard could it be to unbutton someone else's shirt? Evidently more difficult than buttoning and unbuttoning her own.
"Stupid," she muttered, breaking the kiss to find his neck and slide her mouth lower to his chest as she got the buttons slowly undone. She kissed him then and for whatever inexplicable reason broke down in tears.
"Hey," he said, sliding his arms around her. "What's wrong?"
"If you don't want to be here…"
"No, that's not it."
"Oh," he said.
"She evidently thinks by spending time with you I'm going to get pregnant."
"I see," he said. She felt his arms slide out from around her then and she sighed as he stepped away from her.
"Never mind that you don't have a string of kids so it was an accident, a one-time thing. You know? It's not even that. She thinks that I'm going to do that? I mean, does she not know me at all?"
"Probably not," John said. He started working the buttons on his shirt.
"What are you doing?"
"What's it look like I'm doing?"
He finished buttoning it, she hadn't gotten the whole thing undone so he hadn't had to do them all or anything. He offered her his hand then, which she took. He led her to his couch.
"It's not pretty, but it's actually comfortable. And it's clean and everything," he said, looking kind of embarrassed.
"I don't care what your couch looks like," she said.
"Yeah, well, I still know who I'm dealing with."
"John," she whispered.
He kissed her almost as soon as she sat next to him on the couch. She was still mystified about him redoing his shirt, but he was kissing her right now so she didn't much care about anything else.
"I'm sorry your mom made you mad," he said much later.
"It's not your fault." He'd certainly done a stellar job of taking her mind off of the things her mother had said earlier. God, two hours ago she realized glancing at her watch. Why could she kiss him endlessly and have it seem like no time at all went by?
"It kind of is. I knew better than to go there again."
"She'll get over it."
"Apparently not if she's insulting you."
She shrugged. "It's just how she is, you know. Image is everything."
"Shouldn't the fact I'm involved with Holly say something?"
"I think Mom sees it as you ruined Holly's mother."
"I didn't do any ruining, trust me."
"Is her last name Vincent?"
"Yeah," he said, sounding cautious.
"I paged through my yearbook from freshman year."
"Really?" he said, sounding surprised.
"Yeah. There was a Betty Tompkins or something but I didn't see you sleeping with her."
"I didn't sleep with Holly's mother either."
"You know what I mean."
"I do. Do you know her?"
"No," she said. "She's pretty though."
"I suppose. She was. Not so much anymore."
"You don't think she is or she's not?"
"Both. She hasn't taken real good care of herself. You know?"
"That's too bad. Does she have a boyfriend?"
"No. Not that I'm aware of. I don't want her to either."
"Because I don't want her getting married or something before I can do anything and then not be able to get custody of Holly because she's suddenly in a stable home."
"Oh," she said, relieved that was the reason.
"I think her parents know I'm eventually going to take Holly."
"They don't even question me anymore when I keep her an extra night or whatever. They got pretty pissed off at me over the weekend. It was the first time she'd been sick with me, you know, when I had her. They thought I was just letting her cry all night or something."
"You weren't though."
"No, of course not. She woke up about three I guess. She had a fever and so I gave her some Tylenol."
"Right? It didn't do much good. By the time I realized the Tylenol wasn't working her pediatrician's office was just about open anyway."
"I would've done the same thing."
"They saw that after I explained it to them."
"And they let you keep her until today?"
"They don't have anything to say about it. It's up to Betty and she doesn't care. Except I guess she's used to having her Wednesday's to go out and since I don't have her tonight."
"She can't go out."
"Right," he said with a shrug. "I don't feel sorry for her, though."
"I don't either, really. Are you going to call my dad?"
"I am. I'm getting my pay stubs together and stuff. I saw someone before, you know, a free consultation just to see if she could go after me for support or whatever since she lied."
"She can," he said. "He told me what all I'd need to prove I can offer her the most stable environment."
"You've been giving her money, though?"
"Yes, every month. Nothing's on paper. I've been shocked as hell her parents haven't made her do that yet, but maybe they realize nothing formal means it'll be easier for me to get her."
"They want you to have her?"
"I think her parents raised their kids and don't want to raise her kid, too."
"I could see that."
"So, yes, I'm going to call him."
"He's not going to tell your mother about our conversation, is he?"
"He can't! Of course not."
"Well, I know he's not supposed to, but I don't know what husbands and wives talk about."
"No, he wouldn't do that."
"Why'd you button your shirt?"
"Because you were doing something I don't think you realized what you were doing."
"I realized it."
"Yeah, well, you were doing it because you were upset."
"And you care?"
He scoffed. "I don't want you doing things with me because you're upset at your mother, no. That's the wrong reason to start things."
"But making out with me on your couch is okay?"
"We've made out before," he said.
"I wanted to again."
"Me, too," she said.
"You're not going out with my boss again, are you?"
She laughed at that.
"No," she said.
"Did you even have a good time?"
"It wasn't bad. I don't know. I mean it was weird, but he was nice about it. He told me at the end of the night that he really asked me because women like me don't walk into his garage every day."
"No, they sure don't. I can attest to that."
"You know, you can just pick up the phone and call me instead of coming over to my house."
"Yeah, well, I'm not real good on the phone. I almost forgot I had one when I had to call into work Monday morning."
"You're going back to school soon anyway."
"I am," she said. "I gave you that number, too."
"Yeah," he said.
"Nothing happened between us."
"I believe you. I think he was fucking with me to see what I'd do."
"I think you might be right. I'm sorry."
He shrugged. "It's just the kind of guy he is. It's all right. I'm not going to lose my job over it or anything."
"I should let you go," she said, realizing it was pretty late for someone who had to wake up in the morning anyway and drive downtown. She knew Erik had told her he got to the garage about seven every morning. John couldn't be allowed to get there much later.
"What did you tell your mom anyway?"
"I told her I was going out and if she wanted to think I was going to a wild orgy she could think that."
"Better be sure and put your lipstick back on then or she'll think you really did go to one."
"I will," she said.
He stood then, picking her gloves up from the floor while she slid her coat on. That she'd managed to take off normally.
"What are you doing?" she asked.
"Walking you to your car."
"You don't have to."
"I know I don't have to," he said, grabbing his coat and keys. He shut the door behind them and walked with her, letting her lead the way to where she parked.
"So, this weekend," he said at her car.
"You have plans?"
"Oh, you know, there's always something. Why?"
"Well, you want to come out with us, you can. I'll probably rent a movie or something."
"Where are you going?"
"Oh, I don't know. That depends on if you agree or not. You don't agree I probably won't take her anywhere. I'll just make her macaroni and cheese or something. You agree we can do pizza or something."
"Which night did you have in mind?"
"You tell me which night you want to."
"Saturday," she said.
"Why?" he asked.
"You don't work Saturday."
"No," he said.
"Then you won't be tired from working all day."
"Oh," he said. "All right. Saturday it is then. Just come over whenever." He leaned in and kissed her. "Or better yet. Do you have something to write with in that purse of yours?"
"Yes," she said.
"Let me give you my number you can call me and tell me when you're on your way. That way I can make sure she's ready to go."
"Okay," she said. She pulled the paper and pen out of her purse, laughing softly that the last time she'd used it was to give Erik her numbers.
"What's so funny?"
"Nothing," she said. "It's just, I, uh, Erik asked for my number. I gave them to him."
"Obviously he called you tonight."
"I gave him my dorm number, too," she said.
"Really? You wanted him to call you?"
"Well, he asked. I didn't have a terrible time!"
"Fuck, Claire. Now I have to wonder if he's going to be calling you."
"Are you going to be calling me?"
"I don't know. When I can, I guess. I didn't think you gave me your number for that reason."
"I wouldn't hang up on you."
"That's good to know."
He handed her the paper and pen back, opening her door for her then. He leaned in to kiss her again.
"I'd ask you to stay," he said.
"I would, but I'm not going to be a part of a complete lie to your mom."
"I wouldn't be able to anyway," she said.
"Maybe for a little while you could've. I could set my alarm for you to get up in time to get home."
"Maybe," she said. She liked that idea far too much. She had no business liking it or wanting to tell him she'd go back inside with him right now.
"Maybe next time," he said. "See you Saturday then."
Story ©Susan Falk/APCKRFAN/PhantomRoses.com