***Chapter Five***
Word Count: 9,234

"Hello," she said.

'Hey, it's John,' he said.

"Hi," she said more than a little surprised that he was calling her. She just assumed she wouldn't hear from him until she called on Saturday. "Is everything okay?"

'Yeah, why?'

"You just told me yesterday you don't use your phone."

'Oh, yeah, I don't really. It occurred to me, though, that maybe I should make an exception.'


'I don't know exactly. I've never felt the burning need to call a girl before honestly.'

"You felt that tonight?"

'Well, not precisely, no, but I couldn't shake the feeling that if I didn't that wouldn't be good.'

"I don't want you calling me because you think you should."

'That's not what I said. I mean, I guess it could be interpreted that way. I just meant, you know. We spent a bit of time together last night.'

"I remember."

'I'm glad,' he said with a sigh. 'I just didn't want you to decide to change your mind about Saturday because you thought I should call today and I didn't.'

"Oh," she said.

'It seemed like something you might, uh, want from a guy. A phone call. I'd stop by, but I'm guessing that wouldn't go over very well.'

"No," she said quickly.

'Okay then, see, so a phone call won out. You know, so you know I actually thought about you today.'

"You did?"

'Well, yeah,' he said. 'You think I wouldn't?'

"I don't know why you would."

He sighed. 'I don't know why you think I wouldn't.'

"I'm still not sure how I'm any more special than anyone else."

'I've explained it to you.' He sighed softly. 'But you're not sure you can believe me.'

"You do that too well for me to think you're being entirely honest."

'You should talk! So I shouldn't believe you've never kissed anyone but me based on your uncanny ability to do it well?'

"It's different!"

'Well, I don't know what to tell you, and I guess I'm especially glad I called then. I don't want you to think I'm being dishonest. About anything.'

"How was your day?" she asked.

'It was a day. I woke up, went to work, got dirty, and came home.'

"Have you had dinner?"

'No, I was working on that actually. I haven't decided what I want, though.'

"You cook?"

'Sometimes. I'm not going to be giving Julia Childs any competition soon or anything, but I do all right. Fast food burgers got old about three months ago and I can't share those with Holly either. I mean, I still do it sometimes the nights I don't have her if I'm too tired on the ride home to want to bother cooking.'

"Huh," she said.

'I was glad you answered,' he said.


'I don't know what your mom would do if I called you, too.'

"Well, I can give you my number, but unless I'm in my room or the basement I'll never hear the phone ring."

'You didn't give Dawson that number either.'

"No," she said. "I don't usually give out that number anymore since I'm hardly home. My parents disconnected my answering machine so I figure if someone really needs to get a hold of me, calling my parents' line is best."

'Somehow I'm glad he's not going to call you while you're in your bedroom.'

She laughed softly.

"I think you're too worried about whether he's going to call me."

'Did you call him back last night?'

"No, I got home too late to do that!"

'Is that the only reason?'

"Well, it's rude not to call someone back."

He snorted. 'I'm sure he's real worried about it. I can tell him you're not going to for you if you want.'

"No! I'll tell him. Though what am I telling him exactly?"

'That you aren't going out with him again.'


'Why what?'

"Well, why shouldn't I exactly?"

'Because I don't want you to.'

"John," she said.

'What do you want me to say?'

"I don't know!"

'I don't like you going out with someone I know. Is that better?'

"A little." It still wasn't really a reason she shouldn't. She wouldn't because while he was a nice enough guy she knew that night he wasn't anyone she'd really want to see again. John evidently didn't need to know that quite yet, though. It was sort of – funny – to hear him get jealous.

'Have you eaten dinner yet?'

"No. Mom's not home yet."

'Where is she?'

"I don't know. I was out earlier and she was gone when I got home."

'I see.'


'If you wanted to eat more than fries with me I think I could probably do something like that.'

"At your apartment?"

'That was the general idea, but I guess if you wanted to go somewhere we could do that, too.'

"No, you don't need to spend money on dinner out."

'Princess, really? I do have a job.'

"Yes, but you have a daughter!"

'Well, sure, but I don't spend every penny on her. John's allowed to spend some of the money he earns on himself once in a while.'

"I guess."

'It's up to you. If you have plans or something.'

"Well, later," she said.

'Another party?'

"Well, sure," she said. "There's been one just about every night this week. There was one that started Monday night that I'm pretty sure didn't end until yesterday because the parents were out of town."

'I'm surprised you're giving up a party on Saturday. People are heading back on Sunday probably, right?'

"You asked."

'I didn't realize that was all it took.'

"For you it seems that is all."

'Huh,' he said.

"What were you thinking of making?"

'To eat? I don't know. I really don't. I think I stood looking in my fridge for like ten minutes before I called you and nothing appealed to me. I mean, I have food, I have pots and pans to cook with, and I even have dishes to eat off but I just didn't want anything.'

"Well, I'd better rescue you from that."

'Right? Does that mean you're coming here?'

"Unless you want to meet somewhere?"

'No, you can come here.'


'Why don't you pick up some subs on the way? I'll pay you for them when you get here. I have drinks. Beer or pop, which ever you want.'

"Are you sure?"


"Should I ask how you have beer?"

'It pays to know nefarious people, Princess.'

"I guess so. Does Betty know you have beer in your fridge?"

'No, and I'd appreciate it if you don't tell her.'

"I'll try to refrain. What do you do with it when she comes over?"

'She doesn't really come here. I pick Holly up and drop her off at her parents' house. The few times she has come she buzzes me to let her in and I have to go out to get her. Or bring Holly out to her if she's coming to get her.'

"Even when it's cold like it is now?"

'Even when.'

"That's awful." She didn't think John would do that, remembering he was worried about her getting sick in October.

'Well, you know, it is what it is.'

"Still awful. Anyway, tell me what you want on your sub and I'll be there in a bit."

She wrote down what he wanted and left after getting dressed in something she could be seen in later. She found her dad in his study.

"I'm going out, Dad."

"All right, honey. Have fun."

"Thanks. I'll probably be late."

"It's fine. Just be responsible."

"I always am."

He nodded a bit. He hadn't even looked up from what he was working on until now. He was like that sometimes. Claire didn't take offense to it, it was just how her dad was. She liked to think that was what made him a good lawyer, being focused on his task. His job. The case.

"I know, I wasn't implying you aren't. It's just that it's winter and the roads are icy. I trust you, I don't trust everyone else out there driving."

"Oh," she said.

What a completely different tone of conversation than the one she'd had with her mother last night. Where her mother basically implied she was doing things she shouldn't be because she didn't come home and have to look her mother in the eye her dad was saying he trusted her. How did they vary so drastically on their opinion of her? What had she done to her mother to make her think she'd do bad things? Geez, she hadn't even made out with a guy until she was eighteen. How was that bad behavior?

"So you don't think I'm going to do anything stupid?"

"No," he said. "Why? Am I supposed to?"

"I don't know. Mom seems to think…"

"Your mother worries I guess that you feel there's too much pressure on you. Your brother quit his job to head out to Colorado to be a ski bum for the winter, so that seems to indicate to her she failed."

"I guess. He'll be back, you know."

"I know he will, and you know he will. It was just something he needed to do. I understand that. Your mother does not. She's embarrassed and doesn't know what to tell our friends. So, she worries that you're going to do something to add to the pressure on her."

Claire rolled her eyes.

"Just keep doing what you're doing, honey, you're fine."

"As long as I don't run off to Paris for a few months to work on designing clothes or something."

"You know if that's what you wanted to do I'd support you."

He would, too. He'd always encouraged her artistic side. She was good at designing, but she knew it was too competitive of a field to get into. It didn't stop her from doing it, though. Her mother called them Claire's doodles or daydreams. One day when she was done with school and had the time maybe she'd work on seeing if she could actually sell some of her designs, but until then it was just a hobby. She enjoyed making some of her own clothes not that she had much time to do that anymore. Taking a sewing machine with her to school wasn't practical. Next year when she got her own apartment maybe she could.

"I know, it's not."

"All right. Have fun," he said.

She'd bothered him long enough obviously. He was busy. She could tell that by the paperwork he had spread out over his desk. She was tempted to ask what he was working on, who he was defending, but it was none of her business. She'd learned long ago she was better off not knowing.

"Your friend hasn't called me yet."

"He will. He told me he's getting paycheck stubs and stuff together."

"Ah, good, so he knows some of what goes into the process."


"Well, good then. Joan has his name whenever he gets around to calling."

Joan was her dad's secretary. There were times this fall at school that she thought she talked to Joan more often than her dad. She'd call, he'd be busy, she'd relay Joan her message, and Joan would call back with Dad's response. Or sometimes, she'd just talk to Joan about whatever she needed to talk about. She certainly didn't pick up the phone to call her mother about things.

"Okay," she said. "Thanks."

"He does know this isn't my specialty, right? I'm doing this as a favor to him for you?"

"I know and he knows. He just wants his daughter, but I've told him to be sure that's what he really wants before talking to you."

"All right, good. I've had one of my paralegals pull information for me, but it's been a very, very long time since I've dealt with family law."

"I know, Dad. I appreciate you doing it."

"See you tomorrow then."

"Yup," she said.

"Oh," he said.

He stood from his desk then, sliding his wallet out of his back pocket. Even here at the house he was still dressed in his suit except the suit coat was draped over his office chair. She had vague recollections of him not being dressed professionally, presentably when she and Christopher were kids. He'd read the Sunday paper in his pajamas or something, but that was so long ago she couldn't even say what his pajamas had looked like.

"Yeah," she said.

"Here's some money."

"I have money."

"Just in case," he said with a wink. "Have fun, sweetheart."

"Thanks, Dad."

She bought the subs with the money her dad had given her and still had plenty left over for whatever since he gave her a fifty dollar bill. She wasn't sure where he thought she was going that she'd need that much money. She had a credit card in case of an emergency with the car where she needed to call a tow truck or something.

"Hi," she said when he opened his door.

"I think I liked your hello better last night," he said.

She blushed profusely at that, hoping he wouldn't notice she was doing that. She still couldn't believe she came that close to having sex with him. She would've, too, she was pretty sure if he hadn't stopped her. That was such an odd thought, John being a voice of reason when it came to sex.

"Yeah, well," she said.

"I guess no run-ins with Mom tonight, huh?"

"No, she still wasn't home when I left."

"Are you going to get in trouble?"

"No, Dad was home. I told him I was leaving."

"All right."

"He told me you haven't called him yet."

"You knew that already."

"I did. He said his secretary knows to take your call. Her name is Joan, by the way, if I didn't tell you that before."

"I'd need to know that why?"

"So she doesn't blow you off. She's busy. Dad has lots of clients and lots of people who can't afford him hoping they'll catch him on a good day. If you call her Joan and mention me she'll know you're someone who knows something about Dad or her."

"I see. Okay."

He led her to a pretty small kitchen. She was actually surprised and a little impressed his apartment was as big as it was. Shermer wasn't cheap, so for him to have a two bedroom place was impressive. He had a table and chairs, though, and a high chair. It was so strange seeing things for a child here. With him. For him.

"You rethinking being here?"

"No," she said, embarrassed he'd caught her staring. She hadn't meant to. She believed Holly was his, of course, but running into him at the pumpkin patch and coming here and seeing tangible, physical proof that she was really his were different she guessed.

"I don't know that I'd blame you. I'm sure most of your friends would tell you to run away."

"No, I'm fine."

"Coming over Saturday?"

"John, I'm fine."

"You sure? Lunch with us when you ran into us is a little different than actual plans that include her."

"It's a little weird," she said.

"I'm sure it is."

"I'm sure it's weird for you, too, though."

"It is," he agreed.

"I'll be fine. I just didn't see your kitchen last night."

"All right."

"You're not worried about her?"

"What about her?"

Claire shrugged a bit, setting the bags with their subs down. "You know, that she'll be around me."

He scoffed. "Why would that worry me? What are you going to do? Dress too nice for her?"

"I don't know."

"I'm sure I'd hear about it if she was big enough to do more than babble. I'm allowed to have friends, though, and it's not like you're going to be hanging around her every day or anything."

"Well, right," she said. Of course not, because she was leaving for school next week.

"And even if you were. What could her mom possibly say?"

"I don't know. You may want to talk to my dad about things like that."

"About you hanging around us?"

"You may not want to mention me, no."

"Yeah, I figured as much. You sure your mom hasn't told him I've come around?"

"I don't know. I'm not sure he'd be as worried about it as she is. I think he actually trusts me."


"Shocking, right? He's just more rational than she is."

"That looks like a lot more than two subs," he said.

"Well, I figured you could take whatever you don't eat tonight with you tomorrow."

"Do I get to tell Erik you bought me my lunch then?"

"I guess that's up to you."

He scoffed. "He was his usual not talkative self today."

"Is that bad?"

"I don't know. I expected him to tell me something about him talking to your mother."

"Oh, well, I suppose if I'd talked to him, too, he may have. I don't know."

"You didn't call him today?"

"No! I presumed he was still at work until you called."

"He was still there when I left actually, working on something that I have nothing to do with."

"What do you mean?"

"Oh, he takes on projects for people. You know, complete refurbishing or overhauls. I don't touch that stuff. Well, the overhauls I can, but body work isn't really my thing. He lets me work with him if I don't have Holly and can stay late. I admit, it's one of the things I like about him, he seems willing to teach me stuff I never learned working on cars with my old man. Most of the time, though, things like that he has to do it on his own time, because he still takes in normal business. He's pretty good actually," John said with a shrug.

"I noticed his car on Monday. It's very nice."

"You didn't ride in it?"


"Why not?" he asked. "I find it hard to believe he made you drive yourself."

"No, of course not. He wanted to drive my car."

John shook his head slightly. "I guess I can't fault him for that. It is a nice car, Princess."

"Thank you, though I didn't buy it."

"I know, but it's unique. It stands out. Like you, so it doesn't matter you didn't buy it. It's you."

"I'm not sure that's why my dad bought it."

"Yeah, I'm not sure what sixteen year old deserves it, but obviously your dad thought you did."

"Does he let you work on your car?"

"Yeah, on my own time."

"That has to be helpful."

"Sure, changing my own oil and stuff is good. What do you want to drink?"

"Coke is fine."

"No beer?"

"Not tonight, no."

"Hmm. Okay."


"I think I might like to see you with a beer or two in you."

"Maybe one day."

He grabbed himself a beer and her a Coke before joining her at the table.

"So, this has been bugging me all day."

"Oh?" she asked.

"If I hadn't come over yesterday."


"Would you have gone out with him again?"

"Really? This is the type of thing that bugs you?"

"Well, yeah, where you're concerned anyway it is."

"I don't know, John. Probably. You still haven't given me a real reason why I shouldn't to begin with."

"I guess I can't stop you, no."

"I won't. It's not like it was anything more than a date to me. He was nice and everything. I had a nice time and everything."

"I'm not sure he saw it as a date."

"I wasn't going to sleep with him! You of all people should know that I can stop myself."

"You weren't at a party that day, Princess. I don't know what you're capable of with a couple of beers in you."

"I'd gotten high with you!"

"True," he said with a shrug. "Not quite the same, though. Holly, for example, not out of a night of my getting stoned but drunk."

"I'm sure it happens."

"Oh, I'm sure it does, too, but you just don't hear about it as much as people doing stupid shit when you're drunk."

"You realize you don't make sense."


"So, it's okay for me to sit here in your kitchen where there's a high chair and a bedroom a few feet away with a crib and probably clothes and stuff in it. It's not okay for you to know who I go out on a date with."

"I never said it was rational my way of thinking."

"And if I said I didn't want to come here Saturday."

"No one's making you."

"No, say I said I couldn't handle it. It'd still bother you?"

"If you went out on another date with my boss instead? Is that what you're asking me? Yes!"

She frowned a bit at that, but didn't say anything else.

"Is the table yours?"

"Yeah. Everything's mine. All legally, too," he said.

"I wasn't doubting that."

"The couch came from kind of a friend of mine's mom. She was redecorating their basement or something and she mentioned I needed a couch so her mom let me have it."

"That was nice."

"Yeah. That's why it looks like something from the seventies, though."

"It's not bad. You could buy a cover to put over it or something."

"I could. I don't have a whole lot of people over who'd care. You're about the only one that I ever really thought on what it must look like to you."

"And I told you that I don't care."

"Oh, I know what you say, but I can't help but thinking of your mom and what she'd say."

"I'm not my mother! She's not coming over here either."

"No, but somewhere in there is what she taught you, your upbringing. The way you dress. You're not your mother, but you don't shun nice things."

"And if I was in your shoes I wouldn't be able to afford them so I'd have to take what I could get. Stop assuming I'm judging you!"

"How much do I owe you for the subs anyway?"

"Nothing. My dad gave me money before I left."

"To buy me dinner?"

"No, but I already had money and he gave me fifty dollars. So," she shrugged. "Buy something for yourself or Holly."

"Well, thanks then I guess. You didn't have to buy me lunch, too."

"No, I know, but it's cheaper to buy the bigger ones," she shrugged.

"You're right I guess. You didn't get anything weird on yours, did you?"


"No raw fish or Brussel sprouts?"

"Uh no."

"All right, then I'll take it if you're sure you don't want it."


"What time is your party?"

She shrugged. "Whatever time I get there. I'm not throwing it so it doesn't really matter."

"So you're not in a particular hurry."


He stood then and she watched him as he got some things out of his cupboards. She'd thought on him after that day of detention, wondered what he was like away from school but she'd never had the chance to find out. Somehow she doubted he was free at his parents' house to do things like go through the cupboards.

"So, it occurred to me today that I deprived you of your ice cream last night."

"You did!"

He chuckled softly. "I'm not sure I should be insulted you're still concerned about the ice cream cone I threw out the window since it led to a nice couple of hours with you."

"It did."

"So, I stopped at Jewel on my way home. I wasn't sure what kind you like, but I figure who can go wrong with chocolate chip."

"You bought me ice cream?"

He shrugged. "Well, yeah, you seemed pretty intent on having some last night. I didn't know at the time I was going to call you today, but I figured we could have some with you on Saturday."

"John," she said.

"Don't go getting all excited or anything, Princess. It's just ice cream."

"Yeah, but…"

"It's no big deal."

"That was very nice of you."

"So, do you want some now," he asked. The bowls he'd pulled out made a lot more sense now.

"Sure," she said. She stood then, walking to him. "You're not going to throw it away again, are you?"

He chuckled. "No," he said, taking a large spoon out of the drawer. She glanced in it, noticing while he had stuff in there it wasn't like her mom's drawer that was full of everything imaginable under the sun someone could need in their kitchen.

"No ice cream scoop?" she asked.

"Nah, I've never bought any before."



"Huh," she said, regarding him for a minute.

"This surprises you? I suppose ice cream was a common thing in your freezer growing up?"

"Pretty much," she said.

She set her hand over his, stopping him from opening the freezer. It was incredibly stupid, but she was pretty sure him buying her ice cream was the nicest thing anyone had done for her.

She leaned in and kissed him, surprising him she could tell. He probably thought she was mad at him or something about Holly or his reaction to going out with his boss. She wasn't really. He was just very confusing, though she had to admit dating him or not it would bother her to know who he was going out with. She'd never liked anyone before, or since, him. It bothered her to have a face to go with the name of Holly's mom. That was her own fault. She was too curious not to look, to see if she knew her. To see what she looked like. To see what kind of girls John liked before her. The pictures of girls in his wallet weren't the same thing. She had no physical proof he'd had sex with them or done anything with them. She'd seen proof he had with Holly's mom.

He seemed to forget about the ice cream pretty quickly after she did that, turning to face her better and sliding his arms around her instead.

"Why is it you have this habit of kissing me in the most uncomfortable places?" he asked when they stopped kissing for a minute. She found his jaw, lower to his neck and a spot there that made him give the most arousing sound she thought she'd ever heard.

"What?" she asked.

"I didn't say to stop what you were doing," he said.

"Hmm, explain yourself then."

"You just have this habit of kissing me when we're standing up so we'll have to stop."

"We did fine that day at school."

"Well, yeah, sure."

"And last night," she said.

"True," he said. "You're missing my point, though. We still had to, you know, stop to sit."

"And you don't want to stop?"

"Kissing you? No," he whispered when she nipped at his ear.

"Even that day?"

"Especially that day."

"I was kind of mad you didn't do anything else."

"I wasn't going to do anything else when Vernon could've walked in at any minute."

"I know. I was still kind of mad."

"He's not going to walk in tonight, you know," he said.

"You stopped me last night!"

"You were upset!"

"You didn't know that."

"Sweets, it was very obvious you were not kissing me to kiss me."

"I was!"

"No, you weren't. You were mad at your mother and wanted to get back at her for saying something hurtful to you."

"I guess," she whispered. "I'm not mad at her tonight."

"No, I know. I never realized buying a girl ice cream could get this reaction or maybe I would've tried it sooner."

"I can't speak for other girls."

"Just you, huh?"


"Well, that's incredibly fortunate because there isn't really anyone else I'd want to buy ice cream for."


"Well, you know, one I guess, but I'm pretty sure she wouldn't kiss me like you do for buying it for her."

"I hope not," Claire said with a soft laugh.

"You have a couple of choices here, Princess."


"My couch or my room. I guess a third is back to ice cream."

"I think your couch is probably safest."

"You sure you want to be safe?"

"For tonight."

"Why?" he asked, regarding her.


"Well, yeah."

"I can't be sure how either of us will react on Saturday. I may get here and you might not like me hanging out with you two."

"I wouldn't have asked you if …"

"I may get here and realize it's more than I can handle. I mean, I sat with you at lunch in October, but that was different."

"I get it," he said.

"You didn't seem to have a problem just kissing me last night."

"No, I don't. I suggested my room, but I didn't say what for."

"You could be in bed with me and just kiss me?"

He stepped away a bit, offering her his hand.


"You scared, Princess?"

"Of you?"


"Yes," she admitted.

He nodded a bit at that. "Me, too. So that makes both of us. I guess a better question is do you trust me?"

"I do," she said.

"Then let me prove that I can be in bed with you and just kiss you."

She was acting incredibly crazy. She knew that, but she took his hand. It really wasn't a matter of whether she trusted him, but herself. There was no time like the present to find out she supposed.


"I don't want to get up," she murmured softly as he kissed her ear. He wasn't helping her in that either. Kissing her ear was not giving her an incentive to get up and go home as she had to do. She'd stayed here way later than she probably reasonably should have.

"I'm not making you, believe me. You said you have to," he said.

He'd set his alarm for her like he said he would last night. She didn't really have a curfew, but she was pretty sure her mother would freak out if she never came home.

"I know. Mom will kill me if I don't come home."

"I get it," he said. "She'll be sleeping when you get home, right?"

"Yes, why?"

"Just make sure the next couple of days you wear a turtleneck or something," he said, kissing the spot she was pretty sure he'd left her a hickey on at some point during the evening.

"I won't forget."

"Good. I don't want you to get in trouble when we didn't really do anything deserving of it."

"I know."

She turned then to face him, running a finger along his mouth. He nipped at it, kissing it.

"You're not going to cover yours, are you?"

He chuckled. "Not a chance I'm doing that, no."

"You're so bad."

"You gave it to me!"

"Like I knew what I was doing."

"Like I was going to stop you."

"I suppose not. I don't think he's going to be very surprised anyway."


"No," she said, remembering their conversation on New Year's Eve. "Please don't tell him we did anything we didn't do."

"Sweets, really?"


He sighed softly. "I'm not going to talk about you! Not covering it up does not mean I'm going to talk about you. What's he going to do? Ask me questions about getting it? I doubt it since he's into you. You said you trusted me."

"I do, I just know what I hear guys saying."

"You've never heard me saying things."

"I've heard the things you've said about Betty."

"Well, yeah, she's a lying bitch, though. I have nothing nice to say about her."

"I know," she said. She believed him. She did, but there was a little voice in the back of her head that told her she didn't have both sides to the story. She couldn't imagine an eighteen year old purposely getting pregnant, but she knew weirder things had happened. It just seemed so completely bizarre especially since she didn't seem to want anything from John beyond what went into making Holly. And his money.

"You don't have to leave. You were going to a party. You could just tell them in the morning you stayed there."

"I would if I do that commonly, but I don't."

He sighed.

"I wouldn't think you'd want me to stay here anyway."


She shrugged. "Wouldn't that make things more complicated?"

"More complicated than they already are between us? I don't know how that's possible, but I guess I see your point."

"I'm sorry you had to wake up in the middle of the night."

"It's all right, Princess."

She sat up then, finding her shoes.

"What are you doing?" She was surprised to see him get out of bed, too.

"Getting up with you."

"John, that's totally not necessary."

"I'm not letting you walk out to your car at two in the morning by yourself."

"Now I feel worse."

"Worth it," he said, kissing her.

"Are you calling me tomorrow too?" she asked at her car.

He chuckled. "I don't know. That would kind of ruin the surprise if I told you now I was. Wouldn't it?"

"You did surprise me."

"That was my plan."

"Thank you for the ice cream."

"We'll have some on Saturday, I promise."


He leaned down and kissed her.

"Get some sleep," she said.

"You, too, drive careful."

"I will."

He didn't go back inside until she'd pulled out of the parking lot. She felt incredibly bad that he not only had to wake up for his alarm hours earlier than he'd have to normally but that he'd felt he had to walk her to her car, too. Of course if he hadn't and something happened to her he would've felt bad.


"Hello," she said sleepily.

'Good morning.'

"Oh God, it's like six o'clock in the morning! This is not what I had in mind when I asked if you'd call me today."

He chuckled softly. She had to admit it was kind of sexy sounding, which was not what she needed to be thinking about him in any capacity. 'I know, I'm sorry. Normally I wouldn't be that mean. I just wanted you to know that you left your purse here.'

"I did?"

'You did. I can bring it with me to work if you want to come pick it up before I get home.'

"Sure," she said.

'I just didn't want you freaking out later where it was or whatever.'

"Thank you very much. I can't believe I did that."

'Evidently I distracted you.'

"I guess so."

'I can't say that's a bad thing.'

"It would be if I needed my license or my money!"

'Between my house and yours, Princess?'

"Okay, well, true," she said. "I could've gotten pulled over."

'You could've. They can run a license number with your name as long as you're not committing a felony or something they'd let it slide once.'


'So I've heard. I've never done it, but I know people who've realized after they got pulled over they didn't have their ID on them.'


'Says the woman who left her purse at my place.'

"I was tired! You distracted me."

He chuckled. 'I'm just teasing you, Princess. You get ornery when you're tired.'

"I'm not ornery."

'Remind me not to call you before I leave for work when you're at school.'

"I'm not mad at you!"

'Is that your way of saying I could call you before I leave for work some time?'

"My roommate may not appreciate it."

'There is that,' he said, seeming to get that it wasn't just her he'd be waking up at an ungodly hour for college students.

"Sorry." Then she didn't really like her roommate, so she couldn't say she'd really care if she was mad. Well, beyond the fact she had to live with her for close to five months yet. If she never saw her again Claire wouldn't complain. She was pretty certain Emily felt the same way about her, too.

'It's all right. I'll be there after seven o'clock give or take traffic. So whenever you want to come get it.'

"Okay, thank you again. I'm sorry."

'It's not a problem. You're lucky I saw it, I don't always sit down and eat in the mornings, but I had the other half of your sub for breakfast.'

"Really? I'm glad you ate it."

'Yeah, it sounded better than toast or a banana. Too messy to eat in the car while driving, though, so I sat to eat it.'

"That's all you eat for breakfast?"

'Most mornings.'

"You work so hard and such long hours, though."

'Is that concern I hear in your voice, sweets?'

"I guess it is," she said.

'Well, I'll take it. I'm fine. Really.'

"Okay, of course, you know what you need."

He chuckled softly at that. 'I'm not sure you're ready to hear what I need yet, Princess.'

"Would you have showed me if I'd stayed there?"

'You're obviously very tired to be asking me questions like that. I'll let you go.'


'For one, I don't want to be late for work. For two, I don't want you to say something you're going to be embarrassed about later. Sleep some more.'

"Okay," she said.

'Don't forget about your purse.'

"I won't. Thanks again."

'Sure,' he said, hanging up.

She hung up, turning over onto her side in bed. How embarrassing! He probably thought she did it on purpose or something so he'd have to call her. She hoped he knew her better than to think she'd do that, but she knew some women who were pretty devious. He had experience with one, too. Granted, leaving her purse there wasn't on the same level as getting pregnant. She wasn't one of the devious ones, which was probably why to this point she'd never had a serious (or even what most would consider a real) boyfriend and only made out with one guy in her life.

It was around noon when she got there. She'd woken up a little before eleven, figuring he probably took his lunch around noon. Then, maybe she shouldn't have timed getting there with when she thought his lunch might be. She figured there was less chance for Erik to get mad at her being there. She wasn't sure and she also wasn't sure how Erik was going to react to her being there. To get her purse that she'd left at John's apartment.


She dressed nicer than she would just to drive downtown to pick up her purse. She wasn't altogether sure who she was dressing for exactly. It was kind of nice having someone like Erik show interest in her. Her only experience with an older guy was at school this fall and he was an asshole who thought she owed him something for speaking to her let alone asking her out on a date. He'd tried to get her alone, but her friends who were at the same party thankfully wouldn't let her out of their sights.

She wasn't even sure Erik would ever call her again truthfully. He'd given her the impression Monday night he wasn't going to. Then he'd called Wednesday night, though she supposed he may have called to let her know that John knew they'd gone out. She had no idea.

She could only hope he wouldn't be rude to her today!

"No donuts today," the tow truck driver said when he saw her get out of her car. His name was John, too, she thought she remembered John telling her.

"Uh, no. I just came to pick up my purse."

"Should I ask where you left it?"

She blushed profusely at that and he laughed heartily. So, he was teasing her.

"You go on inside. Don't let Dawson scare you either. He thought you were real nice."

"He was nice, too," she admitted.

"Don't spread it around. He likes having the mean-hearted mechanic image."


John shrugged. "Who knows? You'd have to ask him I wager."

"That would be kind of personal."

"Probably it would, yeah."

"And none of my business."

"I didn't go out on a date with him."

"It was one date!"

He chuckled again, sliding his baseball cap more securely on his head.

"See you next time, though I guess you're heading back to school soon so there probably won't be a next time."

"Uh, yeah, next week."

"Well, that's too bad, you sure do pretty-up the place. Well, then, until next time."

"Sure. It was nice to meet you."

He laughed again.

"You're polite, I'll give you that. Bye Claire," he said, getting into his tow truck.

She walked to the door then, opening it. That stupid squeak was still there. She should've expected it, but it still made her practically jump out of her skin. She at least had an idea where he would be this time. The first time she'd been there she hadn't a clue.

"He's in the bathroom I think," Erik said from his office.

"Hi," she said. He was looking at her pretty intently from the doorway there. Obviously, he'd been working on something in his office and got up to see who was opening the door. His wrecker driver had just left so he had to assume it wasn't him.

"Hi yourself. So, you want that fifty dollars?"

She smiled a little at that. "Uh, no. That's okay. I told you I didn't want your money."

"I was right, though."

"I'm not sure I want to even know what you said to him."

"Nothing! I mean, nothing that wasn't the truth. Your friend bringing his car in probably helped."

"Oh yeah, thanks again for doing that for him. That was nice of you."

"It's my garage and I like getting business, no reason to thank me for doing my job."

"I suppose. Still, thanks."

He stepped away from the doorframe then, closing the distance between them. She'd noticed on Monday night how much taller he was than her. She wasn't used to that because she wasn't exactly short. John was a little taller than she was, only by a couple of inches. Erik was probably a half foot taller than she was. He dropped a hand to the shoulder of her coat, which she probably had no business letting him do.

"Can I ask you a question?"

"Sure," she said.

"You sure you want someone with a kid? A kid he wants living with him? A kid with a kind of crazy mom? I mean, that's basically two full-time jobs. Where's he going to find time for you? To take you out like you deserve to be taken out? To buy you the things you clearly like?" He slid his hand lower to her upper arm. "To visit you at school like a boyfriend should do when he works all week and has a kid all weekend even if he doesn't get custody."

"I think you're reading way more into it then what it is. We're friends."

"Am I?"


"Six months he's been working here I've never seen him walk in with a hickey on his neck before."


"I've never seen or heard any evidence that he's done anything but work and be a dad."


"I'm just making sure. I'm not even suggesting it'd be me if it's not him, but you know. I wouldn't complain if it was me. That's just a lot to take on."

"I'm not taking anything on! I'm leaving in a few days to go back to college."

"Uh huh," he said. "Well, you know, you change your mind…"

"I know where to find you." She glanced up at him for a second. "I'm sorry I didn't call you back."

"It's all right. I wasn't really expecting you to. I was just calling to tell you he knew I'd taken you out and that your friend had brought his car in. And, well, to call you. I'm not sure I'm going to just bow out until I know for sure I'm not reading more into things."

"Again I'm going to school!"

"They have phones there. I can dial out. I even have long-distance here at work."

"You can," she said.

"And you haven't told me to fuck off."

"Well, no, I wouldn't do that. You're John's boss. You've been, mostly, nice to me."

He chuckled softly at that. "I guess I deserved that. I do have my weekends free for the most part, so a drive to Iowa City wouldn't be out of the question for a single, unattached guy like me."

He leaned down then and she pushed on his chest. She knew exactly what he was going to try to do and she wasn't having any of that. "You can't do that."

"Oh, I can," he said, glancing behind her and somehow she knew John was standing there. "I won't, though. Hey, John, look who's here."

She shook her head a little, turning then to face John. He didn't look real pleased, which she supposed she couldn't really blame him. Except, he still hadn't given her a valid reason for her not being able to go out on another date with Erik beyond it bothering him. Her kissing John would certainly stop her, but he hadn't said that was why. Was he expecting her to go back to school and do nothing?

"Hi," she said.

His eyes slid between the two of them. Did he really think she'd kiss someone else knowing he was in the building? Then she wasn't entirely sure that would stop some people. She wasn't sure it would stop John, regardless of what he said about not kissing people. She still found that hard to believe. He had to have kissed people. Did girls really just have sex with guys without something coming before it? She was pretty sure she wouldn't be able to have sex without kissing coming first.

Not that she didn't believe him exactly, but he certainly didn't kiss like someone with little experience kissing. Then what did she know? She'd only kissed him so had no one to compare him to.

"I'm not sure I like what you're thinking right now," he said, as if reading her mind.


"Nothing. I can see you're thinking something and I can tell that it's probably not in my favor."

"No, I'm not."

"All right, Princess, come on. We'll get your purse so you can get on with your day."

"Thanks again."

"Don't worry about it," he said.

"I'm surprised you brought it in here with you," she said.

"Why? I wasn't going to leave it in my car outside."

"You have locks on your car."

"Sure, that's not going to stop someone from breaking the window and getting in that way."

"Your trunk."

"I guess that would've worked. Shows how often I have women's purses in my car. You do that? Really? Lock your purse in your trunk?"

"I haven't, no, but Mom has sure. When we've come downtown to do something but she didn't need it or something."

"Huh," he said. "All right, still seems risky to me."

"Who's going to pry open someone's trunk hoping there's a purse in there? Mine doesn't have that much money in it."

"Your mom's probably did."

"Well, yeah, but still…"

"I suppose."

"You were eating?"

"Yeah. I go to lunch at noon unless I'm elbows-deep in something."

"I'm sorry."

"You're good. I was just in the bathroom, it's not like you took me away from anything."


"He likes you, you know," he said.

"I can't help that! I don't think he does, though, not really."

"I don't see him trying to kiss other women."

"I didn't try to kiss him back."

"I saw. He knew I was watching. He tried anyway."

"I can't help that."

"I know. I guess I can't really blame him. I probably would, too."

"You'd try to kiss a woman who was coming to see a guy who had a hickey?"

He shrugged. "I didn't say that. He was trying to kiss you not just a woman. And, yes, I'd probably do the same thing if I was in his shoes. Then I'm not sure what I would have done if he'd shown up here on Wednesday with a hickey."

"I wasn't even close to giving him a hickey!"

"That is very good to know," he said, sliding a hand to her hip and tugging her toward him. "I'm sorry I woke you this morning."

"You were fine. I would have freaked out if you hadn't and I wasn't able to find my purse."

"That's sort of what I figured."

"You figured right."

"I'm going to kiss you now. Is that all right? Or are you going to stop me, too?"

"I'm not sure."

"Not sure, huh," he said. "You're going to make me work for it, I guess?"

"Something like that," she said.

He kissed her then and she kissed him back. She couldn't even find it in her to be remotely embarrassed that Erik might be watching them. He obviously knew they were together somehow last night.

"When do you leave?"

"Next Saturday. Classes start again Monday."

"Right. Some night next week we're doing something."

"We're doing something tomorrow I thought." Was she wrong? Was he canceling on her?

"Without Holly. Outside of my apartment. A movie. Dinner. Walking around the mall. I don't care. Think about what you want to do."

"John," she said.

"You don't want to?"

"No, I just," she sighed softly. "It shouldn't be just up to me."

"I'm asking you, so of course it should be up to you."

"Are you asking me out on a date?"

"I should say no, that I'm just being nice to make sure you have something to do."

"I was! I was absolutely not coming here to ask you out on a date! It was New Year's Eve. Everyone deserves to be somewhere on New Year's Eve."

"I was somewhere."

"I know."

"Yes, I'm asking you out on a date."

"Are you sure you want to do that?"

"Why wouldn't I be?"

"I don't know. I'm leaving in a week. I won't be back again until Easter if I even come home that weekend. I'm planning on going to Mexico for Spring Break. So that means May…"

"Let's worry about a date and then May after that. Okay?"

"John," she said.

"Is there a reason you shouldn't go out on a date with me? You have a guy back at school or something?"

"No! I wouldn't have agreed to go out with your boss if that was the case."

"Then what?"

And that was the question. What? What was stopping her? Her pride, finding out later it meant nothing to him after all. Why was it okay to go on a date with Erik and not him? Because she really liked John and didn't want to have just one date with him.

"Fine," she said. Stupid. Very stupid idea. It was going to totally cloud things between them. He couldn't even tell her what he wanted from her and now he was asking her out on a date. She was so setting herself up to get hurt here in a big way.

"If you don't want to…"

"No, we can go somewhere. I'll think about it."

"Did he say something to you that's making you not want to go on a date with me? Because I swear if he says I have women calling me or coming here looking for me, he's lying."

"He didn't. He's fine."

He scoffed at that.

"I should let you finish your lunch."

"You could sit and talk to me if you wanted to. He won't care as long as I'm back to work when I'm supposed to be."

"I actually have a nail appointment," she said.

"I see," he said, taking one of her hands in his. He looked at it pretty intently, running the pad of his thumb over her nails. "They look fine to me."

"I need new polish."

"I'll pretend to understand."

"I'm getting my toes done, too," she said.

"Hmm, now those I might be interested in seeing."

"My toes?"

"Well, you know, your feet, sure."

"They're feet."

"They're your feet, connected to, you know, your legs and, well, the rest of you. I'd be very interested in seeing your toes."

"Maybe," she said.

"Better than no."

"I'm not wearing sandals tomorrow."

He chuckled. "I'm not sure that's what I was suggesting. All right, go get your nails done then, Princess. I'll see you tomorrow."

"You're not calling later?"

"I assumed you wouldn't be home. It's Friday night."


"I'm not calling your house when I know you're not home. The less I have to deal with your mother the better. Probably better for all of us."

"You could call my line later."

"How much later?"

"I don't know. Try before you go to sleep I guess. If I answer I'm home."

"That's very vague."

She shrugged. "I don't know what else to tell you. I don't know what time I'm going to be home. If you don't want to that's fine."

"Okay. Maybe later then. If not, you're calling before you come over tomorrow. Right?"


"Okay," he leaned down and kissed her again.

"I kind of like that there," she said, running one of the nails she was about to get done over the hickey.

"I'd really like the one you have being there if you didn't have to hide it."

"My mother would ground me for the rest of my life!"

"I know. Call me weird, but I'd like him seeing that we both had fun."

"That's the only reason?"

"Well, no, but right now, here and now, that's my reason."

She smirked a bit at that, leaning up and kissing the mark.

"Don't say good bye yet, I'm walking you out to your car."

"You both do that. Why?"

"Because it's a shitty neighborhood. Your parents would probably sue me if something happened to you while you were here visiting me at work."

"They would not," she said.

"Still not taking my chances. Your car is rather distinct and obviously costly, which would imply you've got costly things on you, too."

"I suppose it is," she said.

He kissed her again outside, but didn't linger. It was cold and he didn't put his jacket on.

"I'll try calling later then."

"Okay," she said. She had no idea what time he'd go to sleep on a Friday night to call her. She was absolutely not going to cut her night early on the chance he might call. "Tell Erik to have a nice weekend."

"I'm not relaying any messages to Dawson from you, Princess," he said, shutting her door for her once she was inside and had started her car. He didn't wait for her to be off the lot completely to go back inside, but she noticed the door to the garage didn't close completely until she did.

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