***Chapter Fifteen***
Word Count: 4,481

"I'm sorry, you're what?" her mother asked.

"Transferring to Northwestern," Claire said. Her mother had heard her the first time. She didn't really have to repeat herself.


"I wasn't really happy at Iowa. Daddy knew that."

"What's not to be happy about? It's an excellent school."

"I know it is, Mother, that doesn't mean I was happy there."

"You've always wanted to go away from home."

"Well, I'm not going to live here. I'm getting a room on-campus." She'd been sort of surprised her dad hadn't argued with her about that, making her live here at home as part of the deal of letting her transfer without a fight. He knew why she was transferring and likely why she wanted to live on-campus despite insisting after last year she'd never live in a dorm again.

"Frank? You knew about this? Why didn't you do something to stop her?"

"Do what exactly?" her father asked. "She's an adult. I can't stop her."

"You're paying for her schooling!"

"If she was transferring to a school I'd never heard of I certainly would, however, Northwestern is a very good school, Emily."

"You let her do whatever she wants. She gets away with too much. Christopher never transferred schools."

Claire bit her lower lip to stop from saying what was clamoring to come out.

No, he hadn't transferred schools, but he'd quit his job and taken a winter off to be a ski bum out in Colorado.

Evidently her older brother had been forgiven for his transgression already. Or he was about to be because Claire had given her mother something new to be upset about.

"I don't like it."

"You don't have to like it, Mother."

Her father cleared his throat. "Perhaps, Claire, you should be honest with your mother."

"Honest?" her mother asked.

"Dad," Claire said.

"Tell her the complete truth, Claire."

Claire sighed softly. She'd been hoping not to have to deal with this yet. She was hoping that maybe her mother would meet John once or twice and see he wasn't so bad before finding out they were dating.

"I want to be closer to my boyfriend so I can help him so he can go to school in the fall, too."

"Your boyfriend?" her mother asked.

"Yes, Mother, I know you know what one of those is. You married Dad, so you have to have had one at least once before in your life."

"Don't get smart with me."

"I can't help it. You're looking at me as if I've sprouted a second hand. I realize I haven't had one before now."

"What sort of help does he need that you're transferring schools?"

"A babysitter."

"Claire Marie! You are not dating that young man your father helped."

"I am," she said.

"I forbid it."

"Emily," Frank said cautiously. "Forbidding her isn't going to stop her. You know that as well as I do."

"She can't do this, Frank. He has a child."

"He does. I've met him. I've met his daughter, too. Can you take my word for it that he seems like a sincere fellow? Is he who I would have chosen for her to date? No, but I can't dictate who she dates and neither can you."

"Sincere until she ends up just like that child's poor mother."

"That child's mother lied to him, Mother! She tricked him! Not every guy is the guilty party and not ever girl is a saint."

"He's just telling you that…"

"I'm not getting pregnant. I've been dating him for months and you haven't even known it. Give me some credit! I want to finish school. He wants to go to school, too. He has a job because he has a child to support, so I'm going to help him."

"How will you get your work done?"

"I will be fine. He didn't ask me to do this. I thought of it on my own because I know he wants to do more for a job than what he's currently doing."

"What does he do?"

"He's a mechanic," Claire said.

"I still don't like it."

"You don't have to like it, you're not dating him. I am. It hasn't affected my grades or anything else and I've been dating him since January."

"School gets harder."

"I know it does. I will study. She's not going to be living with me. It's only a few hours in the evenings while he's at school. It won't be every night either."

"Do you even understand what goes into babysitting a small child?"

"Yes. I've sat with her before."

"That's not every evening, Claire. It's hard work."

"I know that, but it's not fair to him."

"He's not my son."

"No, but wouldn't you feel better knowing I'm dating someone who's going to college than someone who isn't?"

"I'd prefer you not date him at all."

"I know you would."

"Frank. You've known about this and let it continue? You knew how I felt about him. Do something!"

"Emily, what do you suggest I do? Lock her in her room? She wouldn't finish school then either."

"Now you're taking the same flippant tone with me she is."

"Be reasonable, Emily. If you can't trust Claire who has done nothing to deserve that than trust me. I've already told both of them she had best finish school."

"Mother. It's Northwestern! Just think I'll be closer to home. I can come home for Sunday dinners."

"Emily. Meet the fellow. Give him a chance. This is someone who sought custody of his daughter despite his life being easier without her full-time. Claire gave him the tool to use he didn't have to call me, but he chose to do that."

"I have!"

"You have not," Claire said. "You answered the door a couple of times and basically slammed it in his face. That's not meeting someone that's dismissing them."

"I didn't want anyone like him coming around here looking for you."

"That's why I haven't told you before now I was dating him."

"Frank, if something happens."

"Emily. What gives you the idea that Claire's going to behave any differently than she has all of her life?"

"She's transferring schools on a whim."

"It's not a whim, Mother. Again, I wasn't happy at Iowa. Had I thought about transferring before he mentioned wanting to go to school but not being able to? No, but he did and the idea occurred to me that I could switch schools, be happier, be closer to home, and help him out at the same time."

"That still shouldn't be your goal."

"It's not my goal, Mom. It's called being a human being, caring for someone. I want him to succeed because he's a good guy and he really loves his daughter. I want him to succeed for her because I want her to have everything she deserves. That's not wrong! If you gave him two seconds you'd see that and that means you'd see he can love me, too."

"Claire, you just deserve so much better."

"Mom, there's nothing wrong with him. He made a mistake, one he's taking responsibility for. Why is that bad?"

"Your grades better not suffer."

"They're not going to! I know how important my grades are. So does he."

She left the room then, leaving Claire with her dad.

"Did I have to tell her now?"

"You've waited long enough, don't you think?"

"No," Claire said.

"Better now, Claire. She'll have the summer to get used to the idea that you're not her little girl anymore."

"Great," Claire said. "I don't want her thinking about that."

Her dad chuckled softly. "No more than we do, I'm sure. She has to meet him. I told him that, too."

"I know."

"This way it's out there and hopefully she'll come to the same conclusion on her own before school starts when he'll be extremely busy."

"I know."

"You do know that, right?"

"What?" she asked. What was he asking her?

"That he's going to be very busy."

"Yes," she said with a frown.

"I know you say that, but you don't have to work and go to school. He does. Throw a child into the equation. He may not have as much time for you as he does currently."

"I'm aware," she said. "I want him to go!"

"I know. I'm just making sure you understand the free time he has now may not exist in a few months."

"I do."

"You're going out?"


"Be sure you're not late tonight of all nights. I'm going to get an earful already I don't need to hear about you coming in after curfew, too."

"I won't be," she said. "He has to work tomorrow morning anyway." Not that that stopped her from staying at his place much later than she should most of the nights. She knew now that her mom knew that she'd have to be extra careful. Her mom couldn't really ground her or anything, but she could do something like take her car away. A downfall, she supposed, of owning nothing herself. She supposed when it got down to it, she could ground her, too, since she was still living in their house.


"So she knows," John said simply.

"Yes. Dad practically made me tell her."

"Oh," John said.

"I mean, I was planning on telling her. I just thought she could actually meet you first, see you're not a bad guy and then I'd tell her."

"I'm pretty sure she'll see me as a bad guy no matter what."

"Well, still, I was hoping…"

"I know. So, when do I have to meet her?"

"I don't know. That wasn't discussed."

"It's inevitable. Don't you think?"

"Yes," Claire said.

"You're okay with that?"

"Yes. It's not that I haven't wanted you to meet her. I just knew how she'd react. I have no idea how she'll react to Holly."

"Well, she's not evil so I can't imagine she'd be anything but decent to Holly. Me, on the other hand…"

"Maybe," she said. She shrugged.

"And your dad just said to be sure you're not late?"

"Pretty much. I think he just wanted it out of the way so he wasn't the only one who knew anymore."

"I can understand that," John said. "I'm surprised he didn't tell her."

"I think he thought this was something I had to tell her myself."

"Maybe," he said. "I still wish you would've warned me somehow that he was going to come talk to me."

"I knew if I did he'd know you knew about it in advance."

"I have a pretty good poker face."

"Against my dad? You don't think he's seen a few poker faces in his career?"

"I suppose," he said.

"Your reaction had to be sincere."

"God, Dawson asked me if I'd gotten you pregnant. When he asked me what my intentions were with you, I thought I had."

"He asked you that?"

"Yes! He didn't tell you what he was going to say?"

"No, just that he was going to talk to you."


"What did you say?"

He shrugged. "I didn't know how to answer him. I basically asked him if he didn't think my being able to go to school was the best option for all of us since he was there asking me what my intentions were."

"Good answer."

"Well, what was I supposed to say? That I plan on marrying you? I mean, I don't know. It's a little soon for that, isn't it?"

She shrugged.

"I mean, I guess from his vantage point I'm having sex with you so I could see where he might question my motives. I'm not saying I'm not, you know. I even thought when Dawson asked me about you being pregnant that in a few years when you were done with school it wouldn't be a bad idea."

She smirked a little at that.

"I just assumed that was between us. I guess if I was actually at the point of wanting to marry you I'd talk to him about it. Right?"

"That'd be up to you."

"But I'm supposed to. Your brother would talk to whoever he's dating's father."

"Yes," she said.

"Are you all right?"

"Yeah," she said, shifting her head a bit to glance at him. "Why?"

He shrugged. "I don't know. You're sure about transferring? I mean, if you think at all that I think you should…"

"I don't think you think that at all. I want to. I'll still be able to study. I don't have class every hour of the day during the day."

"I know, but I'm not going to be able to get a place right near campus."

"I know."

"So that means some commuting time, even if you don't stay with me every night."

"Every night?"

"Well, yeah. If I'm going to school Monday through Thursday and you're babysitting. You planning on going back to campus at nine or ten o'clock at night?"

"I suppose not."

"And then weekends."

"I just hadn't thought about it like that before."

"I have. I was going to see if you wanted to look at any place I'm thinking of renting before I commit."

"I don't have to…"

"I know you don't have to. You're going to be spending time there, even if you don't stay every night. You'll be there with Holly a few nights a week and I hope you'll be sleeping there, essentially living there."

"I can, sure. I'm sure anything you'd pick out is fine."

"Right," he said softly.

She kissed his shoulder, rubbing her cheek against him there.

"Why do you do that?"

"Do what?"

"Insult yourself? You're looking at an apartment knowing your daughter is going to be living there. Why would you choose anything that wasn't suitable for her to live in?"

"I wouldn't."

"So why do you think it wouldn't be suitable for me then?"

"I don't know. There are things that might matter to you that wouldn't to me. Certainly they wouldn't matter to Holly. A bigger bathroom. A bigger kitchen. The color of carpet or being able to paint a wall if you want to."

"I need the kitchen now?"

He chuckled softly, turning onto his side, and sliding his hand along her hip under her shirt.

"Well, you know the saying, barefoot…"

"Don't even joke about that. My parents would kill both of us. Dead. Holly would have no father!"

"I know, just teasing. I do like the idea of you barefoot, though."

"Why?" she asked.

"Don't know," he shrugged. "I guess because it means you think of it as your place, not as being a guest here. People don't walk around barefoot in other people's houses. At least that's what I've been led to believe."

"I guess you're right."

"You'll need a seat for your car, too," he said, pushing her shirt up.

"I suppose," she said.

"So, what's your dad's idea of late?" he asked, sliding her shirt off.

"Well, one o'clock more or less."

"More or less," John said with a chuckle as he worked the clasp on her bra.

"Well, if I get home at one thirty they're not going to say much."

"He's not. She may," he said.

"Maybe," she whispered when he closed his mouth over one of her peaks. "Now you're distracting me."

"Is it working?" he asked as he switched from one to the other.

"Kind of," she said. It wouldn't really matter anyway. She didn't like it when he stayed up much later than eleven o'clock. Holly was in bed by eight most nights so that gave them three hours together. And a couple of hours in bed together. She had to admit, she loved those two hours more than she ever thought she would.

"Fair is fair, Princess. You used your mouth to get your way."

"I know," she gasped as he nipped at the skin there. He focused there for a little while, always mindful what her bathing suit would hide and what it wouldn't. Though now that her mom knew…

Yeah, no, she'd freak out if she saw a hickey anywhere.

He seemed to know that, too, because he was always careful. Sometimes too careful, she thought, but she understood. She slid her hands along his shoulders and back. She loved the way he felt, the heat of his skin under her fingertips. His skin wasn't smooth as hers was, but she didn't mind. It was part of what made him who he was.

"Love the way you feel," she whispered.

"I think that's supposed to be me saying that," he quipped, nipping at the skin next to her belly button.

"You can, too," she said. "I do, though."

"If you say so," he said with a shrug. She knew he didn't see himself that way. She wasn't silly enough to think he didn't know he was attractive. Clearly he was. He just wasn't completely vain about it like some guys she knew were.

"I really love the way you feel when you do that," she murmured when he found her nub with his mouth. He didn't answer her and she was very glad he didn't. She sighed softly as he slid a finger inside of her.

"John, I want…"

He shifted a bit, sliding onto his back. He prompted her to move on top of him. He'd had to convince her the first time they did this, but he never had to talk her into it again. Using her mouth on him at the same time he used his on her felt too good all-around for her to worry about whether she should or shouldn't like it.

Neither of them were in a huge hurry to get to actual sex. Some nights they were incredibly anxious and some, like tonight, they weren't. She wasn't sure why or what the difference was. She just knew tonight she could have lain here on top of him licking, sucking, touching, and tasting him for hours and she would've been fine with it.

Eventually, he moved on top of her and slid inside of her. She gasped because him filling her always felt so good. She loved when he kissed her any time, but inside of her like this was even better. She never doubted his sincerity or that he liked her, but with her this way she could always tell what she meant to him. She hoped she conveyed the same in return. She tried. Neither of them ever spoke of loving each other. She wasn't sure why. Too soon? She was pretty sure she loved him from that day of detention on.

"You've thought of that," he said later. He'd have to go to sleep soon, but he always seemed to put it off to the absolute last minute when she was here. Sometimes she felt guilty, worrying he didn't get enough sleep when he worked so hard. He insisted he was fine, though.


He shrugged. "What being with Holly will mean?"


"Yeah, I don't know. I mean, before I go and sign up for school and stuff I need to make sure you've thought that part through. People are going to see you with her."


"They'll probably assume she's yours. I thought of that the day in January we went to the Aquarium. You having a seat in your car for her and stuff."

"The people who matter know she's not, John. I don't care what people who don't know me think."

"Really? You don't care that someone might think you were a mom at seventeen?"

"I'm sure it'd bother me, sure. I'm not going to let it affect me, though. I'm certainly not going to let it stop me from being with her and you."

"I'm just making sure you've thought all this through. I mean, there's dinners and baths and potty training."

"I know. You'll have to walk me through things like her bath and how to work with her on the potty training, but I'm happy to do it. If anything I'd want her potty trained!"

He chuckled softly. "Yeah, I guess you would."

"John, it's babysitting. I want you to be able to go to school. Do you have another option?"

"No," he said. "Not a viable one. I mean, I'm sure your mom would ask me about my parents."

"I understand."

"So, no."

"I'm not going to let a stranger's opinion about Holly and what my relationship is to her affect me. It might bother Betty. Have you thought about that?"

"I have, but clearly she doesn't give a shit enough. She called tonight, by the way."

"She did?"


"What did she want?"

"And that's the rub, isn't it? You don't assume that she called to ask me about Holly or to tell me she's coming by or anything. You assume she wants something."

"Am I wrong?"

"No. She wanted to know if I'd give her a ride somewhere tonight."

"Oh. Did you?"

"Nope. I told her Holly was already in bed and I wasn't waking her up. If she'd called me with some notice I might have."


He shrugged. "I don't know. I guess it would've depended on my mood. Maybe."

"I don't know that I like her calling you looking for rides."

"I used to do it," he shrugged.


"Because she's my daughter's mom? I don't know."

"What's different now?"

"I don't know. You? I mean, it's not you exactly, but I just realize I don't need to please her. Even if I didn't have custody of Holly I don't have to live my life to avoid pissing her off."


"And you."


"Yes. I know you think somewhere in the back of your mind that we were together or more than just a one-time thing. I'm sure when you were at school and you knew I was seeing her a couple of times a week you wondered if I still liked her."

"I believed you."

"I wanted to believe you did, and I'm glad to hear it. I think if the situation was reversed, though, and Holly was yours I'd be suspicious of the guy. So, I try to keep that in mind. We have a kid together, that's all we have. I don't owe her anything more than what I've given her. Now if she cleaned up," he shrugged.

"I understand you're going to have involvement with her."

"I know, involvement is not giving her a ride somewhere though. I mean, parental involvement is not doing a favor for her like that. She just had no one else to ask and knew in the past I would've done it."

"Did she like you?"

"I don't know. I really don't. I mean, she chose me for a reason it would seem. I don't know what that reason was. I don't know if she thought I'd react differently, do something other than what I did. Maybe she saw me as the best choice at the party that night. I have no clue. I've never asked because I was too pissed to find out what her intentions were. Then it just never came up."

"My dad asked me if I realize how busy you're going to be."

"Huh?" he asked.

She shrugged. "School. A job. Holly. Homework."

"Oh, making sure you don't get upset if I don't let you monopolize my time anymore?"

"Something like that."


"I told him I understand that."

"Well, I have no problem with you being around or anything. Studying is not something I'm used to doing, so I do hope you'll bear with me as I adjust to doing that for a change."

She snorted softly at that.

"What? I never brought a book home through high school."


"No. I mean, not a text book. Occasionally I brought a book we were assigned to read home."

"Which book?"

"I don't know! There were a couple that seemed interesting enough for me to actually read."

"You don't remember them?"

"No," he said.

She laughed softly, sliding her hand along his stomach. She should go. He wasn't going to sleep tonight for some reason and it was getting late. Even she knew that.

"You will tell me if you want me around less, right?"

"Less? I don't think that's going to be an issue. Just know some Sunday when you're watching TV I may actually have homework to do."

"And hell hasn't frozen over."

"I know it, right?" He chuckled, leaning in to kiss her. "If I haven't mentioned it, thank you, Princess. What you're doing, I can't ever repay you."

"I don't want you to repay me."

"I know, but I'm just putting it out there, how valuable what you're doing for me is. Your dad mentioned loans, and yeah I could get them, but I don't want to have to get loans for daycare, too."


"I mean I don't want to get done with school and be broke before I even start out."

"I know," she said.

"I know it's not just for me, but you could've transferred here and not offered to do it. So that part is for me. And thank you, really."

"You're welcome."

"You're leaving, aren't you?"

"How can you tell?"

He shrugged. "You always touch me differently when you're thinking about getting out of bed."

"Oh," she said. She hadn't realized that.

"It's subtle, but there's a … I don't know, good bye about it that's not usually there."

"We're sitting here talking, which is fine, but you need to go to sleep."

"There's a cure for that."

"We already had sex and you're still talking!"

"We could try again. Maybe the second time will work better. Maybe we didn't do it right the first time or something."

"Funny guy."

"I know, I'm just a riot, but I'm not sure I was kidding. About trying again, I mean. Clearly, we do it very right every time."

"John, it's after midnight."

"It is, so you'd better make up your mind fast."

"Why do I have to decide?"

"Because if you haven't already noticed my parts are already up to the task, I'm just waiting for you to tell me whether I should tell them to stand down or not."

"You're such a pig."

"I know it. You love me anyway."

She snorted, but slid on top of him.

"I love it when you take control."

"I know you do," she said. "I'm leaving after this."

"I see how it is. Have your way with me and leave without as much as a kiss."

"Uh huh," she said as she slid herself over his length.

"You can kiss me now to make up for it. So my delicate ego knows I'm not just a piece of meat to you."

"Good thinking," she said.

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