***Chapter Nine***
Word Count: 5,109

John was sorely tempted to ignore the buzzer. Nothing good could come of someone buzzing to get into his apartment at…

What time was it anyway?

He glanced at his alarm clock and realized it was almost one o'clock in the morning.

Then the idea that the police being there because something had happened to Betty or her parents occurred to him. He was someone she had to contact in case of an emergency for Holly's sake. Her parents were usually available, but obviously Holly was his not theirs so he was okay with it.

He got up then and went to the panel by his front door.

"Hello," he said.

"Um, hi, it's Claire…"

He didn't need to hear what more she had to say. He slid the little lever that would release the door so she could pass through and get to his apartment. He worked the deadbolt and security chain on his door, opening it.

"Hi," he said more than surprised.

"Hi," she said.

"You got some sun."

"Oh God don't remind me," she said. "It's why I came home today instead of tomorrow."

"Come again?"

"We rented a boat this morning and basically got lost and stranded until another boat happened by us and helped tow us to where we'd rented the boat from."


"So, we were out on the water for like three hours when we were only expecting to be out there for one hour."

"No sunscreen?"

"No," she said.

"Oh," he said. "So you're face?"

"Isn't the only thing that's burnt."

"Fuck, Claire. Three hours?"


"Are you okay?"

"I'm just really sore and when I was able to get on a flight today took it."


"I'd rather be miserable here than there?"

"Fair enough. How did you get here?"

"My car. I had to get back to school somehow."

"Oh, sure," he said. "I guess I didn't realize you flew out of O'Hare."

"Oh, yeah, it was way cheaper than flying from school, I guess."

"Makes sense," he said.

"Worst flight of my life, though."

He chuckled softly at that.

"Don't laugh at me."

"I'm glad that other boat came along."

"We were, too! We weren't sure what we were going to do otherwise. We were so lost."

"I'm not sure I even want to know what you guys were thinking doing that."

"Me either. It seemed like a good idea at the time."

"I bet it did."

She slid her coat off and she winced even doing that much so John reached to help her remove it the rest of the way.

She was … Red everywhere he could see so far.

"So your parents'?"

"Don't know I'm home."

"I see," he said. He wasn't going to complain about that at all, though looking and feeling like she probably did he was going to guess touching her was out of the question.

"Unless you wanted me to go there…"

"No," he said. "You're welcome here anytime. I just wasn't expecting you, obviously."

"I tried calling you from the airport, but for some reason the call wouldn't go through."

"Oh," he said. "Sorry."

"It's not your fault. I was pretty tired, so I probably dialed wrong or something."

"You kind of give a new meaning to the B-52's Rock Lobster, Princess."

"Shut up," she said, but she laughed so she wasn't mad at him.

He leaned in and kissed her, careful not to touch her like he wanted to. Ten days of not touching her after two full days of doing mostly nothing but that sucked.

"I have an idea to help you if you'll, uh, indulge me."

"Indulge you?"

He shrugged. "Yeah. I've had burns…"

"I know," she said.

"Not just those kind. I meant, you know, sunburn and well, working on cars sometimes I touch things that are hot."

"Oh, right."

"Go to the bathroom. I'll be right there," he said.

"I didn't wake Holly up, did I?" she asked.

"Nah, she's a pretty sound sleeper."

"I wasn't even thinking."

"It's fine. Even if you had woken her."

He started the water running in the tub once he joined her in the bathroom, making sure it was as cool as it could be comfortably for her to sit in before he put some baking soda in it.

"Do I want to know why you have baking soda?"

"I have flour and sugar, too," he said with a shrug. "My life is what it is. Laugh at me if you want to."

"No, I'm not laughing."

He reached for her shirt then, lifting it up and off carefully.

"John," she said.

"Relax, Princess. I won't deny undressing you is very exciting to me. I'm not an asshole. I can see how much pain you're in."

"I know I just…"

He chuckled softly. "I'm kind of surprised you're letting me undress you in here."

"That didn't even occur to me," she said as he worked on helping her out of the rest of her clothes. Bra and shoes followed the shirt.

"The tub is clean, too. I give Holly her baths in there so I'm not a slob."

"I didn't even think that," she said.

"So, Mexico was good otherwise?"

"Oh, yeah. A blast."

"Good," he said. "Meet any Mexican men I need to worry about?"

"Oh yes, at least three."

He chuckled a bit.

"You want me to get in the tub? It's going to hurt! I could barely stand taking a shower this morning."

"Trust me, Princess," he said.

"John…" she said when he worked the zipper on her pants after he'd slid her shoes off. She wasn't wearing socks or nylons with them so that was one less thing he had to contend with.

"Why is me seeing you without your clothes on in bed acceptable?"

"It's just different!"

"I'd offer to take mine off and join you, but I'm not sure that would work so well given your condition."

"No," she said.

She got in the tub without further argument, which kind of surprised him. She hissed a bit, but he didn't think the water was too hot.

"Now what?"

"Just sit there for about fifteen minutes."

"And you're going to do what?"

"Sit and watch you?"

"You can't be serious!"

"Well, yes and no," he grabbed a washcloth he'd brought in with him. "I figured I could get your back. It's pretty red."

"I'm red everywhere!"

He laughed at that. "You're not going to go out onto the water without sunscreen again, are you?"


"Good girl," he said, moving to sit on the floor next to the tub.

"You're really going to wash my back?"

"Well, no, not wash it. That'd hurt. I'm just going to get some water on it."

"Oh," she said.

"Legs down, Princess," he said when she started to gather them to her chest. "They're pretty bad, too. I'm not going to get so hot and bothered that I can't keep my hands off you for the night."

"Sorry," she said.

"It's all right. I'm not sure how I'd react if the situation was reversed so you're fine."

"You probably would've known how to get the boat unstuck."

She was probably right.

"Why'd you come here instead of going home?" he asked after a few minutes. "I'm sure your mom would've known exactly what to do for you."

"I didn't want to?"

"Good enough answer."

"Would you rather I be home?"

"No," he said quickly. "Then I'd rather you didn't have to go back to Iowa tomorrow either."

"I know," she said with a sigh.

"It's Iowa not Miami or something. We'll make it work, Princess."

"How was your week?"

"The usual. John and I got to open and close the shop by ourselves on Wednesday."

"Why?" she asked.

"Dawson had to go to the hospital Tuesday night."

"Is he all right?"

"He was back at work Thursday so he must be."

"Why did he go to the hospital then?"

"I don't know!"

"You didn't ask."

"Claire, he's my boss. If he wanted me to know why he went to the hospital he'd tell me."

"Yet you asked him about visiting me," she said.

He sighed.

"Speaking of hospitals, Princess," he said.

"You're changing the subject."

"I'm not, but you may want to go in and get some antibiotics or something. Your back is pretty damned bad. You've already got blisters popping up. I'm surprised you haven't been getting sick."

"I haven't eaten anything yet."

"Been drinking water?"

"A ton!"

"Good," he said.

"I have blisters popping up everywhere."

"Well, I'm not looking everywhere at the moment."

"Why aren't you?"

He chuckled, leaning in to kiss a spot on her shoulder that had escaped sunburn. Judging by the line there it was where her swimsuit had protected that portion of her skin.

"I won't deny looking at the parts of you that aren't red from sunburn would appeal to me a great deal. I'm not sure that'd be very fun for you, though. Me either honestly."

"Not fun?"

"Well, you know overall I'd be kind of limited. So would you. That you can think like that right now makes me happy."

"You really think I should go to the hospital?"

"Right now? No, but ask me again tomorrow and my opinion on that may change. This isn't your average run of the mill sunburn, though, Princess, like you just laid out for an extra fifteen minutes or something."

"I know."

He stood, kissing the top of her head, which caused her to hiss all over again. He hadn't even thought of her head, but he supposed that would be burnt, too.

"Sorry," he said.

"Not your fault."

"I don't think I've ever been around anyone who has been sunburnt from head to toe before."

"I'm glad I could settle that curiosity for you."

He went to the hall and the small closet there, grabbing a towel.

"How do you have all this stuff?"

"What stuff?"

"I don't know. Towels."

"Uh," he said, frowning. "What kind of question is that?"

"I don't know."

"Well, clearly I take showers."

"I know, but I have two towels at school and that's only because I may not get to do laundry every week."

"Oh, well, I don't know. I just bought more than one? Isn't that what I'm supposed to do?"

"I guess I've never thought about it."

"Don't you have more than two at your house?"

"Well, sure."

"Maybe I was just preparing for the day I'd have someone to need to give a towel to."


"Or maybe I have a job where I get dirty. Some days dirtier than others so I like to have more than one towel. Try as I might some days I don't get all the oil and grease out of my hair and stuff."

"I get it," she said as he set the towel on the edge of the tub.

"That means I can get out now?"

"You can. Do you feel better?"

"A little. I'm not sure anything's going to make it feel better."

"Well, a little is better than not at all."

"What? You're not going to dry me off, too?" she asked when he started to leave the bathroom again.

"I was going to go find you a shirt to wear."

"I can put…"

"Something of mine that's bigger so it won't be touching so much of your skin. Or be as tight."

"Oh," she said.

"That also means no bra."

"That I won't complain about either."

He chuckled softly.

"That also means you may be stuck here until you leave to go back."

"That's all right."


"Sure," she said.

"Pat yourself off. Don't rub. You know?"

"I get it, yeah."

"Good, just making sure. Don't need you popping those blisters ahead of time."

He found one of his older T-shirts. Not in the greatest condition, but it was pretty soft from being washed so many times. He figured that'd be good. He'd never been covered in a burn like she was currently so he was sort of winging it with this part.

"I remember that shirt," she said when he turned around to find her standing there. She had the towel around her, a corner of it tucked in so it wouldn't fall the way women seemed to be able to easily.

"Yeah?" he asked, surprised.


"I guess I never knew you noticed what I wore."

"Sure," she said.

"All right," he said, suspecting somehow that was all she was going to admit to. Tonight anyway. "I, uh, have some lotion. Maybe you want to do that yourself?"

She laughed then.

"What? I'm trying to be nice here."

"You just washed my back."

"Yeah, because you can't reach it. I'll put the lotion on your back, but the rest I don't know if you want me doing that."

"You're so funny."

"I'm funny!"

"Yes. Like I'd mind you touching me."

"Well, sure, but there are different reasons. I don't know what you're comfortable with. In the bathroom you didn't seem to want me to take your pants off."

"Because I wasn't sure I believed it'd really help!"

"Ah," he said. "You what? Thought you showed up at one o'clock in the morning with sunburn worse than anything I've seen before and my first thought was to get you naked in my bathroom?"


"Then what?"

"I just didn't know it'd actually feel good."

"Baking soda was something we had in my house growing up. I knew it worked decently for regular burns, figured it'd have to have at the very least a similar effect on sunburn. Just with a tub and more baking soda."

"I will never doubt you again."

"You better not say things you can't be sure you're going to stand by. Something tells me you'll find a reason to doubt me at some point in time."

"Why would you think that?"

"I don't know. A couple hundred miles separating us for a good portion of the year. Your parents to contend with when you are nearby. Because you can't tell me either of them is going to be thrilled with your choice in boyfriends. My daughter with me most every time I do see you because I don't really know that I can assume Betty has any interest in taking her. Her parents would want to, but not regularly like parental visitation would be. I just have a feeling I have a bit of work cut out for me."

"And I've told you I know that Holly…"

"Yeah, I know what you've told me. In theory I understand it seems simple to you. When there are parties you want to go to and bring a date and I can't go because I don't have a babysitter. Or there's a movie you really want to go see. Or when your mom and dad decide they want to meet the guy you're hanging out with. She's always going to be a factor. I've been dealing with it for a while now. What few friends I do have don't pick up the phone and ask me to go watch a game with them because ninety-nine percent of the time I can't go."

"Well, you could go to a place that's not a bar."

"Logic would say that, but my friends don't want to go to a place that accommodates me and my kid because they don't have that problem."

"It's not a problem."

"You know what I mean, Princess."

"I do," she said softly.

He left the room and went to the bathroom again, finding the lotion he had in the medicine cabinet there.

"When you're ready for me to get your back let me know."

"Where are you going?"

"Going to make sure I locked the door again."

"Oh," she said.

"Do you have a suitcase?"

"In my trunk."

"I suppose I should go get that, too."

"You don't have to…"

"Yeah, I'm not going to have you blame me if it gets stolen."

"It's not going to get stolen."

"Your car stands out, Princess. I'm going to get your suitcase. I'll be back. Put the lotion on, put the shirt on, and get in bed."

"What?" he asked at her smirk.

"Nothing. Just wondering how many times you've used that tone with Holly."

He chuckled. "I did just sound kind of bossy. Sorry. Habit."

"It's all right. It's just … strange."

"Yeah, far cry from the guy who had no responsibility whatsoever except being sure he knew where his next blunt came from."

"You were fine then, too."

"To you, though I don't think you wanted to admit it then. I'll never understand that, why you came to the closet that day, but you know it is what it is."

"I'm not sure I'll ever understand it either."

"I'll be back. Bossy tone or not what I said is sound advice so I hope I find you in bed when I'm back."

"If you're going to put lotion on my back, though, shouldn't I leave the shirt off?"

"I'll work around the shirt."

"You want me to wear the shirt?"

He shrugged. "Put it this way. I'll like wearing it the next time a lot. Really."

"There's something for you in my suitcase, by the way," she said when he got back in and was in his room again.


"Yes. I had to have someone buy it for me."

"Well, you're in my bed so I'm not sure what could be in your suitcase. That's all I wanted you to bring back for me."


"Uh huh."

"Easily done."

"You know it occurs to me you came here to Chicago, flew out and back here, yet you weren't going to see me were you?"

"Oh, I was going to come see you tomorrow, yes."

"You were?"

"Yes. I figured I could stay here before I went back to school on Monday morning."

"You were going to drive there and then go to class all day?"

"Would you have minded?"

He shrugged. "Well, no, put like that of course not. I don't want you failing classes because you're tired because of me either."

"I wouldn't have."

"You say that, but I'm not sure I would've let you sleep much."

"You would've had to go to work on Monday."

"There is that," he said.

"Why do your pillows smell good?"

"They do?"

"Uh huh," she said, glancing at him over her shoulder since she was currently lying on her stomach.

"I just washed them?"


"Yes. I could do laundry during the week when I don't have Holly I suppose, but it just works better for me to do it on weekends. That way I'm also sure all of her stuff goes back to Betty's house that's supposed to."

"It won't have to anymore, though, will it?"

"Hopefully not much longer, no."

"Good," she said.

"What you did for me, Princess. I don't think I've ever really thanked you."

"You did."

"Well, I don't remember it. So, thank you. You didn't have to ask your dad to do that."

"That's what friends are for. You obviously wanted her."

"You wouldn't say that if you'd seen me with her two years ago."

"It's not two years ago, it's now. You were lied to. No one could blame you for not being excited at the prospect of being a dad when you were sixteen."

"I suppose not."

"My dad's helping you then? I mean, he is really?"

"Yes! I've told him I'll pay him what I can when I can and he seems fine with that. It sounded as though he wasn't going to even charge me."

"No, I don't think he was."

"Well, I feel better paying him something. He hasn't invoiced me for his time or anything, so I have to kind of guess what someone like your dad's time is worth."

"You're my friend, I wasn't expecting him to charge you."

"I bet he'd charge me if he knew I'm more than your friend now."

"I don't think so. He's not my mom. He just wants me happy."

"I make you happy, Princess," he asked.

"Keep doing that and you'll make me exceptionally happy."

"I'm not doing anything."

"You're putting lotion on my back. That's doing a lot."

"Yeah, well, touching you like this makes me want to put other things on your back. Or someplace anyway."

"I could use my mouth."

"You could. That'd be fantastic, but no, that's not why you came here tonight."

"How do you know why I came here tonight?"

"Because looking like you do I doubt very likely you had anything on your mind but feeling better."

"You've made me feel better."

"I'm glad," he said, setting the lotion on the stand by his bed and drawing the shirt down. He slid a hand along her ass cheek, touching the back of her thigh. Those were about the only parts on her he felt comfortable touching right now. "I'm not sure I was expecting you to wear just the shirt."

"You have my suitcase!"

He chuckled at that. "I'm not complaining."

"Thank you," she said.

"For not complaining?"

"No, for not making fun of me or telling me I'm stupid."

"You're not stupid. Accidents happen. Making fun of you seems like a bad way to keep a girlfriend I just got so I'll hold back on doing that for now."


He left the room for a minute again, coming back with a glass of water and some ibuprofen.

"I'm fine."

"You're going to be sore and hurt. I haven't been covered in head to toe before so I can only imagine what you're going to feel like tomorrow morning."

"Thank you," she said, taking the glass and the pills.

"You need anything else?"

"I'm fine for now."

"You sure?"

"John, I'm fine beyond wanting you to lay down next to me."

"That's easily done."

"You have a better bed than I do," she whispered.


"Yes. We fit."

"I wasn't complaining about how we fit on your bed. It was small, but that made it cozier." He'd expected her dorm room bed to be smaller so he wasn't surprised or anything. Of course he hadn't been planning on sleeping there so the logistics of sleeping with her on a smaller dorm room bed hadn't entered his mind until he'd done it.

"It did," she said, seeming to agree.


"Why are you still in bed?" she asked the next morning.

"Where else would I be?" he asked.

"I don't know. Up with Holly."

"Oh, she's still sleeping."

"So late?"

"It's only eight o'clock," he said. "She'll be up soon, I'm sure. I usually chill in here until she does so I don't wake her up earlier than she would normally."

"Oh," she said.

"How are you feeling?"

"Sore," she said.

"You will be for a while, I'm sure. Those blisters are going to itch like crazy. I should go to Walgreen's today to get you better lotion than what I have. There's got to be something specific to that type of thing so the itching isn't so bad."

"I can go."

"I know you can, but that would require you putting clothes on. I'm trying to avoid you having to do that until you have to tonight."

"If people could see you now."

"What do you mean?" he asked with a slight frown.

"You have me naked in your bed and you're worrying about lotion."

"Well, if you didn't look like you currently do believe me I wouldn't be worrying about anything but being very quiet until Holly did wake up."

She got out of bed then and he watched her. He could tell she was sore and probably pretty stiff.

"Where are you going?" he asked.

"To get your present."

"It's not that important."

"I don't want to forget about it and bring it back with me. I'd get in trouble if I have it in my room and well I'd never use it."

"Okay," he said, curious now.

She opened her suitcase. He'd offer to do it for her, but he noticed grabbing it out of her trunk that she had a lock on it. He supposed she'd have told him the numbers if he'd asked but she seemed to want to do it herself.

"I stuffed it inside of my clothes so I knew it wouldn't break," she said, bringing a bottle over to him.

"Princess," he said, taking the bottle of tequila from her.

"I don't know if you even drink tequila, but it seemed the thing to buy while in Mexico."

"I'd say. It even has a worm at the bottom."

"Yeah. Remind me not to kiss you after you've had a shot of that."

He laughed softly at that.

"Can I kiss you now while holding the bottle?"

"Yes," she said and he leaned in and did just that.

"Thank you," he said. "I didn't expect you to get me anything."

"I know, but like I said it seemed like the thing to do. I know you like to drink."

"Well, I hope you don't tell your parents that about me when you describe me."

"No! I mean, you know, I'm not implying you're a lush or anything."

"That is very good to know."

"I just figured, Mexican tequila."

"No, no, you were right. I'm sure one night I'll break this open with someone and enjoy it."

"When I'm at school preferably."

"You really wouldn't kiss me afterward?"

"It's a worm, John!"

"Well, I could do things that don't require kissing. Or at least my mouth on yours."


"Hmm," he said curiously. "No?"

"I like kissing you while we're doing that."

"I like kissing you, too."

Too much probably, but that wasn't a bad thing really. He didn't think so anyway.

"I may not even open this," he said, setting the bottle on the stand next to the lotion bottle from last night.

"Why not?"

How to explain it? He wasn't sure as he eyed the bottle.

"It's the first thing you've ever bought for me. I may just keep it."

"I bought it for you to drink."

"I know. We'll see," he said. He'd never been given much of anything before in his life. Certainly not something as expensive as a bottle of tequila. Maybe they sold it down there like they sold bottles of water up here. He had no idea, but he doubted it. He doubted she bought him a cheap bottle either. She just wasn't made that way.

"Now I feel bad," he said.


"I don't know. I've never gotten you anything."

"You didn't go to Mexico," she said.

"Yeah, but you're not supposed to get me stuff. I may be new at this, but I know that's not how it works."

"John. It's not like I bought you a car."

"I know," he said. "I've just never gotten anything from anyone before. You know? I just feel guilty, like I should have something…"

"You paid when we went to the Aquarium and stuff. It's not like you haven't done anything."

"Paying for a date is not the same thing at all."

"John, I'm sorry. I didn't mean to make you feel bad or anything. I just thought you'd like it, honestly. That was the only reason I bought it."

"I know," he said.

"And please don't think you need to go out and get me something. I was on a trip. That's what you do when you go on a trip. You bring things back for people. I even brought something for Holly."

"You did?"

"Yes. It's just a bracelet. I'll give it to you and you can give it to her or not. It's up to you."

"Well, if you bought it for her…"

"Yes, you may not want me giving her stuff. I don't know."

"Why wouldn't I?"

"I don't know. I wasn't sure."

"You can give her stuff. I mean, if you're buying her something real expensive I may say something about it, but a bracelet I think is reasonable."

"All right."

"It's not like made of diamonds or anything?"

"No," she laughed. "It's very colorful, though, that's what made me think she might like it. I don't know the first thing about kids, but I think I remember in Child Development class learning kids like colors."

"I never took it," he said.

"The class?"

"No, I probably should've, but I wasn't thinking the clearest at the time."

"I suppose not."

"All right, Princess. Let's get some more lotion on you and then we can get up for the day."

"What are we going to do?"

"We aren't going to do much of anything. You're going to move as little as you can get away with. I'll make us some breakfast, maybe order a pizza for dinner before you have to go back to school."

"I don't have to leave that early."

"I know."

"I'm glad you answered your door last night."

"I'm glad you came here." He grabbed the lotion so he could put more on her back before he got up with Holly. He'd heard her stirring for the past few minutes so he knew she'd be awake looking for him shortly.

"You're not just saying that?" she asked.

He scoffed. "No. You can come here anytime. I'd prefer you not skip out on classes to do it, but otherwise."

"I wouldn't do that anyway."

"Yeah, I didn't think you would. Just being clear. I'm not trying to come in between you and school or making you choose between me and it."

"I know."

"You have shorts in that suitcase I imagine?"


"Comfortable ones?"


"Good. Come out whenever you're ready. You obviously know where the bathroom is and stuff. If you want to take a shower, cool water. As cool as you can stand it."

"I know," she said.

"If you want another bath, the baking soda is still in there."


"I might be persuaded to come do your back again."

"Not if Holly's awake."

He sighed softly. "I suppose that wouldn't fly, would it? All right. Another time then."

"Hopefully I won't be sunburnt another time."

"I don't need the sunburn to want to wash your back, Princess."

"Oh," she said.

"Next time, in fact, I might just join you and wash it the right way."

"There's a wrong way?"

"Not being able to touch you like I wanted to is bordering on criminal."

"You would know."

He chuckled softly at that. "Yeah, I guess I would."

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