"I'm not running a daycare you know," Dawson said.
"She can't be here," he said. "I mean, never mind she can't be here. She could get hurt or killed here."
"I'm aware of that, too," John said.
"So, you just let her mom drop her off here?"
"You think I can stop her? How exactly?"
He had not been expecting Betty to show up here hours before he was scheduled to be done with work to drop Holly off for the weekend. It was Friday so traffic was always a bitch and John wanted to stop at Jewel and the bakery on the way home to pick up food for the weekend and the cake for her birthday. He hadn't ordered a cake last year, so he'd gone sort of overboard this year and gotten something pretty extravagant. Overboard considering she'd never remember it, but he would.
"Why did she have her today anyway?" Dawson asked.
Logical question especially since he knew she hadn't seen Holly since the end of March.
"I called her when I was on lunch and asked her if she could pick Holly up from the babysitter for me before six o'clock so that I could pick up a few things without her for tomorrow."
"Well, it sure is before six o'clock," Dawson said.
"I know," John said.
She'd been even crazier the past three weeks since the ink was dry on the custody agreement giving John full custody of her. Claire's dad even threw in giving John the right to discontinue visitations if he thought Holly would be harmed or compromised being with Betty. Certainly while living with her parents John wasn't worried about Holly, but he imagined one day she'd move out. The new agreement went into effect April first, but as that fell on a Monday he'd basically had her since the end of March because while Betty's parents may have appreciated having her that last weekend Betty didn't want her.
With full custody came the fact Betty was supposed to be paying him child support. He was kind in the agreement, leaving it open to their own previous arrangement. It had always been as needed. He paid her fifty bucks every week because he didn't ever want it said he didn't give her money. She'd never gone after him for a dime, so he was extending her the same courtesy. He kind of hoped in a weird sort of way she wouldn't pay him. He was documenting everything, Claire's father's idea. Every conversation they had on the phone or in person, every penny given to him or him to her, every item bought for Holly down to a barrette or ponytail holder. Claire's dad seemed to think, judging by Betty's behaviors, John could eventually have a case for abandonment if she stopped seeing Holly and never gave John money. John wasn't sure he'd go that route as to do anything to keep Holly from her mom indefinitely, but he was following Mr. Standish's advice just the same. Better to be careful and not need it than need the information later and not have it.
To this point she hadn't paid him anything. He couldn't say he was surprised. She had unlimited income now to go to her habits since she didn't have to spend anything on Holly and as far as he knew her parents didn't charge her rent. One day she'd sober up and realize what she was throwing away. At least he hoped so since she was the one who wanted a kid to begin with.
"How long is she going to be a vindictive bitch?"
"I wish I knew," John said.
"Go home," Dawson said. "She can't be here."
"I know. Can I, uh, use the phone before I go?"
"The phone?" Dawson asked. He sounded pretty incredulous at the request. John wasn't sure he could blame him. It was kind of odd since, generally, the only reason he ever made calls was standing right here currently.
"Yeah. Claire's going to be leaving within an hour. I'll see if she maybe can pick up the, uh, cake since I can't now." It would kind of ruin the surprise if Holly saw her own cake first.
"You want to use my phone to make a call to Iowa?"
"Yeah," John said.
Dawson stood from his desk then with a shake of his head.
"Have at it."
"I'll pay you for the call."
"I'm not worried about the money. You're not going to be talking that long if all you're doing is asking her to pick up a cake."
"You sure she's ready for that?"
"Ready for what?"
"I don't know. Picking up your daughter's birthday cake. That seems like kind of a mom or dad thing to do."
John frowned slightly at that. He didn't see it that way exactly, but he supposed he could see where others might. His parents didn't pick up birthday cakes for him. "Well, if she doesn't want to she can say no and I'll do it tomorrow morning."
"All right, well, use the phone then. Come on, Holly," Dawson said.
"Uh, what are you doing?"
"Letting you use the phone without having to watch her. Uncle Dawson will show her the inside of that old Edsel he's working on."
"Thanks," John said, glancing at Holly going with Dawson without even seeming to think about it. He supposed she was too little to be suspicious or anything of people who knew her name. That was a pretty scary thought.
He picked up the phone, like most everything at Dawson's Garage it was old. In this case it was an old rotary phone. It very likely was older than John and could be used as a weapon if need be it was that heavy. It worked, though, that's all John cared about right now.
'Hello,' she said.
"Hi," he said.
'Is everything all right?'
"Yeah. Well, for the most part."
"Oh nothing. Betty screwed up my work day. I wanted to stop at Jewel and that bakery you told me about on my way home before picking up Holly so asked Betty to pick her up from Mrs. Kuzinski's to be sure I wasn't late."
"She dropped her off here a few minutes ago so Dawson's sending me home."
'I'm sorry,' she said.
"It's not your fault, and while I can stop at Jewel still with her I was hoping maybe I could talk you into stopping by the bakery to pick up her cake. I don't want her to see it first."
"I'll call them to be sure they know you will, though I'm sure it's fine."
'And it's under your name?'
'Sure, I can. I was about to leave so you have good timing.'
"Thank Betty for that."
'I don't think I will.'
"At least we weren't stacked to the rafters with cars to work on today."
'When do you think she'll stop being mad?'
"Never? I don't know. Her parents weren't too happy with me either, but that's something we can talk about when you get here. I don't want to talk any more than I have to on Dawson's bill."
'Oh, right. All right. I'll stop there on my way to your place then.'
"Good. And your parents?"
'Don't know I'm coming into town for the weekend.'
"That is the best news I've heard all day."
'That'd mean something if you hadn't already told me what happened.'
"I know. Get here soon, all right?"
He hung up then, going to collect Holly from the Edsel Dawson was showing her. John had never seen an Edsel in person before. He'd seen pictures, of course, in magazines and a history book or two in school. The one Dawson was working on was a pretty neat powder blue version. It had apparently been in someone's private collection, untouched since it rolled off the assembly line basically until someone bought it recently. Why they were having Dawson look it over was anyone's guess, but here it was.
"Let's go, Holly."
Dawson helped her out of the front seat and she ran to John. He picked her up, knowing she'd get dirty but she already was since Betty had handed her to him as soon as she got here. So, a little more dirt wasn't going to hurt anything.
"I'll see you on Monday I guess."
"I'll be here. Happy Birthday, Holly," Dawson said.
"Thanks," John said. He was surprised to hear Dawson say that.
"You are going to work out some other sort of alternative plan, right? At least until she's done being pissed off at you."
"Yes, I'll figure something out. I have a couple of friends who could do it. I just have to figure out who I actually trust her with. Then nights I will want to stop at a bakery on the way home won't be many."
"I guess not. Have a good weekend."
"Thanks, you too."
He stopped at his apartment first, getting them both cleaned up before heading to Jewel. He didn't mind stopping there after work looking like he did, but he wasn't going to let Holly go in there looking greasy and dirty. That was all he needed. At least Betty had taken her coat off before handing her to John so that wasn't filthy.
She was talking a bit more these days. Her unending rambles of 'dada' ate at a piece of his heart he was pretty sure he never knew existed until hearing that word said about him by Holly. Good timing, too, because two years ago, hell, even one year ago he wouldn't have been ready to hear them.
The groceries were more for Claire and him since Holly would eat whatever he was having for the most part. She was always happy with grilled cheese so he made her one of those when they got home since it was about time for her to eat anyway. Mrs. Kuzinski didn't give her dinner each night, but she made sure she had snack late enough in the day after their lunch to tide her over for a potentially late dinner. She was, John had to admit, pretty good so far.
It was kind of weird that her birthday fell on a Saturday this year so they'd actually be having cake with her on the actual day tomorrow. He was going to cook some steaks and stuff, too, not that she'd appreciate his efforts but he was sure Claire would enjoy something other than the fast food or pretty casual stuff he always seemed to have when she was here.
"Hi," he said when she got to his door.
"Hi," she said, handing him the box the cake was in so he could take it to the kitchen.
"Thank you again."
"It was no problem. Did you tell her mom where you were getting the cake from?"
"I may have mentioned it to her parents, why?"
"She was there when I got there to pick it up."
"You saw her?"
"Yes," she said.
"Did she say anything to you?"
"No, actually, she was outside almost as if she was waiting for you. So she didn't know I was there to pick up the cake."
"Weird," John said.
"It was. I just wasn't sure."
"Well, she's not very happy with me right now."
"She hasn't taken Holly at all this month even though she can have her every weekend if she wants to."
"Well, the set visitation is every other weekend, but I made it clear she could have her every weekend if she wanted to. I'm not out to stop her from seeing her mom."
"So I don't know. She was pissed I asked her to pick her up today. I don't know if she thought I'd ask her to come have cake with us."
"Oh," Claire said, biting on her lower lip a bit with her teeth. "I hadn't thought of that. She won't see her on her birthday."
"Hey, she could get a decent job, stop doping and boozing it up, and move out of her parents' house. She hasn't done that."
"I know, I just hadn't really thought about it from the standpoint of her birthday."
"I didn't see her on her birthday last year."
"I suppose not. And her parents?"
He shrugged, glancing into the living room. Holly hadn't strayed too far from the area she'd been playing on. He had a big quilt he set down on the floor for her to play on. She could have crackers and juice on it and he didn't have to worry about his carpet getting dirty. Things getting dirty was a constant worry of his now that he had her every day. And every day for three weeks was way more than he was used to. He wasn't going to lose his security deposit over spilled grape juice.
"Well, I think they knew I was going to try and get custody of her eventually. I think they were a little pissed I didn't warn them it was happening now."
"Oh," she said.
"Yeah, the couple of times I picked her up before everything was finalized but they knew they were not very nice to me. I mean, you know, before they found out they were at least," he shrugged, searching for the right word. "Cordial to me. They weren't overly friendly to me. I'm sure in some ways they see me as your mom does, the guy that knocked their daughter up and screwed up her life. I think they logically know it was fucked up before me and my dick entered the picture, but I'm easy to blame and now I've taken their grandchild from them."
"I thought they wanted that."
"Well, again, logically, yes. I know they weren't thrilled with basically being responsible for Holly the days and nights I didn't have her. The night during the week she spent with me they still had her during the day. I mean, they'll get over it, especially when they can start enjoying their newfound freedom. They just sort of made me jump through hoops to pick up her things. I have a crib and high chair, but I don't have all of her clothes and stuff here."
"And you've lost yours. Your freedom I mean. They have to know that, too."
"I didn't have to do this. I could have thrown your dad's number away."
"She's better off with me. Now in a couple of years if Betty has turned her life around and I think that would be as good an option as being with me I'd share custody or something."
"You're too nice."
"I'm not. I'm not trying to punish her or take Holly away from her, though I think she sees it that way right now. I just don't want for my daughter what I had, you know? Ironic that living with me is the better, more stable option."
"If you say so."
"I know so," she said. He slid his arms around her and tugged her to him for a kiss.
"Hi," he said.
"You already said that."
"I know. I haven't kissed you yet, though. I never feel like I've really said hi until I do that."
"I see," she said. "You don't usually kiss me in front of her."
"I didn't have custody of her before. I'm not going to never kiss you."
"That is very good to know."
"I might get kind of mad about that."
He ran a fingertip along her lower lip which she kissed.
"We wouldn't want that."
"I do know I don't want you mad at me."
She laughed softly, settling her head against his chest.
"What do I owe you for the cake?"
"Don't worry about it."
"Claire," he said.
"No, really, it's fine."
"No, that's not right."
"You bought all of the food."
"Well, she's my daughter."
"I can buy a cake, John."
"You did buy ice cream, right?"
"I did. We bought that Neapolitan stuff."
"Hmm. Couldn't decide on a flavor?"
"Well, she likes strawberry and vanilla. You like vanilla and chocolate."
"What do you like?"
He chuckled softly, tugging her closer to him for another kiss. "It seems I answered this question once before."
"Uh huh. You're wearing it."
She blushed profusely and he chuckled softly at that.
"You shouldn't say that in front of her."
"She doesn't know what I just said, I didn't say anything wrong, and she's not even listening to us. She's all the way over there anyway."
"Besides, it's underneath what you're wearing that I like best."
"Stop," she said.
"I will not." He found her jaw, kissing her there. "How are you, by the way?"
"How am I?"
"Yeah, you know, your sunburn?"
"Oh, I'm fine."
"Good," he said. "I know you had a rough few days there when you first got back to campus but you hadn't said much after that first week."
"No. That lotion you bought me at Walgreen's was great. I carried it with me in my backpack and put it on anytime I felt like I needed to scratch."
"I had Kelly from next door put it on my back in the morning and before I went to bed so that didn't get too dry either."
He'd met Kelly when he was there. She seemed pretty nice. She was from Idaho he knew. He only remembered that because he honestly until her saying she was from there didn't think anyone actually lived in Idaho.
"You doing it would've been nicer."
"Tell me about it. I had dreams about the things I'd like to do to your back after you were here."
He chuckled softly. "Well, yeah, that'd mean I was, you know, behind you. That's very exciting."
"Why?" she asked.
He shrugged. "I don't know that it's an explainable thing. It's just exciting."
"All right," she said, sounding cautious.
"So, Dawson brought up a valid point today," he said, figuring maybe a change in topic was wise for now. He wasn't sure he wanted her thinking too hard on whether she'd want him behind her or not.
"I need to sort of have a backup with Holly in case I'm running late or something."
"I mean, he's been great about letting me off as close to five o'clock as he can get. I've never been later than six fifteen to this point, but like today. I had a couple of things I wanted to do, you know?"
"I need to think about that, I guess. I have a friend, kind of. I mentioned her once before. It was her mom that was redoing her basement that gave me the couch."
"Would that bother you?"
"If I had a girl do it?"
"Pick Holly up? Why would it?"
"I don't pretend to understand how the minds of women work. So I'm asking to be sure if I asked her to be my backup plan you're all right with that."
"Sure. It's not like she'll be doing it every day."
"So it would bother you?"
"Well, I don't know. Every day? Maybe. That'd mean she'd be seeing you every day, too."
"You see guys every day."
"I know. I'm not spending time with their daughters though. I'm sure I'd be fine with it. I don't know. Whatever you need to do, John."
"Because I can't really think of anyone else that doesn't still get stoned and stuff."
"I guess so, yeah."
"I never really had to think about emergency contacts or anything before now. Hopefully Betty won't stay pissed off at me and will be willing to do it without showing up at the garage hours before I'm due to get off."
"I can't believe she did that."
"I don't pretend to understand the way she thinks. I'd like to have you be the contact during the summer, you know when you're home."
"I could do that."
"I'd call you to let you know and stuff. I can't see it happening real often."
"John, you don't need to give me a reason or an excuse. I'd be fine with it."
"All right, thank you. I'll get you a key to my apartment."
"You're going to give this other girl a key to your apartment?"
"Uh no, but she can bring Holly to her house with her. You, I assume, can't."
"Oh, yeah, that wouldn't go over well."
"I know it wouldn't. Thus the key. Besides you should have one. I'm not moving anytime soon and nights like last month when you came here unexpectedly you could just let yourself in."
"You'd want me to do that?"
"Claire… Why wouldn't I?"
"I don't know."
"I've said I want you here anytime, so giving you a key seems logical. You can come here during the summer whenever you want. Coming home to you in my bed waiting for me would be a really great way to end my day."
"Does she know about me?"
"Betty? No. I didn't dare tell her that before the custody stuff was done. I was afraid if she did know she'd tell your dad and he'd stop doing the case or something. I was too close to finally having her and there's no way I can afford even a pretty cheap lawyer. A cheap lawyer wouldn't have been nearly as effective either."
"He wouldn't have done that."
"Says you. I'm pretty sure he might have knowing I have one daughter already and am having sex with his daughter. I saw the way your mom looked at me. She was envisioning you having a daughter of your own nine months after my showing up at your house that first time."
"He wouldn't. He's not like that."
"I want to believe you."
"Are you going to tell her?"
"I figured I'd wait until the summer when you're actually in town and we're doing stuff together on a frequent basis. Until then why excite her even more."
"That's the only reason?"
"Yes. What other reason would there be?"
"I don't know."
"I don't want to be with Betty, Claire," he said, setting a hand along her cheek. "I didn't date her. I didn't hang out with her. I didn't like her. I wasn't hung up on her. I didn't ever want to have sex with her again after that one time."
"I don't know," he said with a frown. "I was sixteen, one girl wasn't my thing. The same girl more than once was a waste of my time."
"You asked the question, don't get mad at me for the answer. I just want to be sure you realize there are no feelings that are going to be rekindled or anything."
"Except she chose you for a reason."
"I'm not really sure she did other than I was there, convenient, and she knew I was pretty open to fucking. I mean, I didn't get the impression she liked me or anything."
"I missed you, you know," he said not wanting to talk anymore about Betty if he could avoid it.
"Did you?" she asked.
"The last time you were here. I got all excited seeing you standing at my door."
"Yeah. I wasn't expecting you at all. There you were. All sunburnt and everything."
"I know," she said.
"You're here now, though."
"No, well, there are still a few spots…"
He chuckled softly.
"You can show me those spots later."
"I'm not sure those spots will interest you."
"All of your spots will interest me tonight, Sweets. You showed up at my door, I thought I was going to get laid again."
"I bet you did."
"It was very much a letdown."
She laughed softly as he kissed her. He worked a couple of buttons on her blouse and he loved when he saw her breathe a little heavier at that.
"Want to fix that?"
"Letting you down?"
"That was the general idea behind the question, yes."
"John, Holly is…"
"Not right here, no, but you have a bag to put in my room. I can put her in her crib for a little while…"
"I think you can wait a couple of hours until she goes to sleep."
"I think you underestimate how badly I want to again and overestimate my wanting to wait any longer than I have to."
"Well, just put it with having to for a couple more hours."
He sighed, groaning softly as he slid a hand along her breast and felt her respond to him when he did.
"No, but that just doesn't seem right."
He sighed again, sliding his hand away from touching her. It was the last thing he wanted to do, but he did it. He slid his mouth along her jaw to her ear, nipping at it before finding her neck.
"I'll be fast and make it up to you later. Like all night later," he whispered
He chuckled softly.
"It was worth a try."
She whimpered softly as he kept kissing her neck. She really liked when he did that for some reason. Some spots got a better reaction out of her than others. He was still learning those spots and was enjoying the process very much. He pushed her blouse back a little bit, kissing lower along the top of her breast.
"Won't she fall asleep if you put her in there?"
"Not if I leave the light on and everything, no. I put her in there if I have to take a shower when I get home from work."
"I suppose," she said softly.
"You could really make up for an unexpectedly shitty day here, Princess," he said, working a couple more buttons on her blouse.
"It just seems so…"
"Come on, parents have to have sex with little kids around."
"Well, yeah, when they're asleep I'd think."
"She's not going to know!"
"You really can't wait like two hours?"
"Can't? Sure I can. Want to? No," he said. "What can I say? Seeing you makes me incredibly horny."
"Seeing me does?"
"Uh huh. Talking to you does, too, but my hand doesn't feel nearly as good around me as you do. It doesn't kiss me either."
She laughed at that.
"You shouldn't say that!"
"What? Like you don't know I do that. A lot more frequently the past few months than I have been used to needing to do that, too."
He chuckled softly at that, at the fact she wouldn't think he would. He took her hand, sliding it to the front of his jeans.
"But if you've done that you should be able to wait."
"Fuck, really? That's going to be your reason? That's not a very good one. I just got done saying my hand was not you!"
She worked the button on his jeans and then settled her hand over the fly, cupping him with the palm of her hand. She ran her thumb along the length of him through his jeans there and he couldn't help but groan softly. It wasn't as good as direct contact, but it was better than the nothing he'd had since visiting her.
"I swear to God I just think it's a terrible habit to get into!"
"If I only had her weekends anymore I'd agree, but I have her every day. You think I'm going to wait until she's asleep for the rest of my life to have sex with you?"
"Well, probably not the rest of your life, no. She'll move out eventually."
"I'm not sure I like you making jokes at a time like this."
She giggled softly, kissing his neck.
"If she was more used to me…"
Probably a fair argument. He sighed softly, glancing over her shoulder at Holly who was still playing on the floor. Fuck. He could've just taken her in the kitchen and been done with it and it would've been fine. Instead he was now actually hard in addition to being horny. Granted, he didn't foresee either remaining the case for too much longer. Still, frustrating to have to wait even a couple more hours when it'd been weeks!
"I'd feel sorry for you if I wasn't staying with you all weekend."
"There is that I guess," he said as she kissed the spot where his collarbone dipped at the base of his throat before reaching up to kiss him.
"I might even promise to make it worth your while to wait."
"I'm not sure."
He chuckled softly.
"I'm sure whatever you come up with would be worth my while so I'm good with that."
"You think so?"
"I know so, Claire. It'd be your idea, that'd mean you'd want to do it. I'm good with that."
"It'd serve you right if it was sleeping."
"It would, but if that's what you'd want to do…"
"Well, would that be tops on my list tonight? No, but I'm not an asshole if you didn't want to I'm not going to make you. Trying to convince you to take fifteen minutes in my bedroom is not making you!"
"Once she's more used to me being around you guys…"
"I can live with that," he said.
"Thank you. I just… I don't want to be that girlfriend who she says awful things about later on in life."
"I find it hard to believe she'll have anything awful to say about you."
"I know that, but if we get into the habit of going to your room right away when I get here every weekend I come to see you when I'm at school. Sooner or later she'll be old enough to remember that."
Probably another fair argument. Even her babblings were making a little more sense to John these days. Perhaps that was because he was around her every day now he wasn't sure.
"I missed you," she said.
"You just missed my bed."
"I did! It's way better than my dorm bed."
"I seem to remember you saying that when you were here after your trip."
"I'd love to sleep in it again without sunburn being a problem."
"I think you'll discover I don't have much sleeping on my mind tonight, Princess."
"The cake was beautiful, by the way. They showed it to me before I paid for it."
"I know, that's why I didn't want to pick it up. I didn't want her to see it. First of all, I want her to be surprised and second of all, she'd have seen it and then gotten pretty pissed off that she couldn't have it right away."
"I can see that. Was it your idea?"
"What do you mean?"
"Well, did you come up with what you wanted them to decorate it with?"
"Oh, yeah, she loves the Muppets."
She leaned in and kissed him. "You're a good dad."
"Because I got her cake decorated with what she liked?"
"Yes. I can guarantee you my dad would never have thought of that in a million years."
Hmm. He hadn't thought he'd done anything special or extraordinary. She liked the Muppets and that was about all she liked right now with regularity. Sure, Mickey Mouse and stuff were good, but she loved Kermit and Miss Piggy so he'd asked them to decorate the cake that way.
"Sure. I can't wait to eat it."
"You've gotten cakes from there before?" She'd given him the name of the bakery.
"Yes. That's where we get all of our cakes and stuff from."
"Good to know. It's more than I thought a cake would cost truthfully. That's why I don't like you paying for it."
"It's all right, really."
"I'm going to have to give her a bath tonight."
"Well, I was at work when Betty dropped her off so she got kind of dirty. Mostly her clothes, but Dawson took her out into the shop while I called you so just to be sure. I cleaned us up before going to Jewel, but basically I just washed her hands and face so she still needs a bath just to be sure."
"Oh right. He did that?"
"Did you ever find out why he was in the hospital?"
"No. I mean, he wasn't. It was his mom, I guess."
"Oh. Is she all right?"
"He hasn't really said. She's home again so she must be. I didn't really press when I found out it wasn't him who'd been the patient. I figured it was none of my business even if it was him, except if he was going to drop dead I'd like to know I need to start looking at other garages to work at."
"Good. I mean that they're both all right."
"Other than that, though, the bath I mean, you have my undivided attention."
"Uh huh. If you want me to prove that to you…"
Story ©Susan Falk/APCKRFAN/PhantomRoses.com