***Chapter Three***
Word Count: 3,132

"You actually let me sleep the entire flight," John said when she had to wake him up to put his seat back upright and fasten his seat belt again. She'd unfastened it for him once the seatbelt light went off because he'd been sound asleep by that point and she knew from her own experience that it was just so much more comfortable without it buckled around her.

"You thought I wouldn't?" she asked.

"Well, I don't know. That's like," he glanced at his wristwatch, which she noticed was pretty nice. "Three or so hours of no talking. Most women I know can't go that long."

"You were tired! I had a book."

"That wouldn't stop most women. How was the book anyway?"

"It's okay. Kind of funny, actually. You're doing me a favor," she said with a shake of her head. "I can let you sleep when you need to."

"Even the next flight?"

"I might even sleep some on that flight."

"Aww. Do we get to share a blanket and everything? That could be kind of cozy."

"Shut up," she said, but she laughed. She couldn't help it.

"What's on your mind, Claire?" he asked.

"What?" she asked.

"I can see you thinking. What's up? Have I done something already? I thought I did pretty well in the limo considering I didn't know they were going to be there until two minutes before getting in."

"No, you did fine. Thank you."

"Then what? I won't forget to shave again, I promise."

"That's not it either. I don't really care if you shave."

"No? Hmm," he said, sounding intrigued by that.

There was no way in hell she was telling him how good he looked like this because there was nothing appropriate about saying it. He did look good, though.

"I just really don't want to eat with them."

"Oh," he said. "Hmm. How much time do we have at the airport?"

"Like almost four hours."

"Jesus. Are you kidding me?"

"Yes. I mean, no I'm not kidding you."

"Plenty of time to eat then."

"Yes," she agreed.

"Well, couldn't we go to that club for a while first? Then they'd never know when we decided to eat."

"We could," she said, not having thought of that for some reason.

"What is their financial situation anyway?"

"What?"

"Just wondering how they can both take so much time off. Her I can sort of understand. She probably gets vacation. Kind of unusual for someone to have a full two weeks left going into December. Then what I know about regular jobs is nothing. Business owners don't usually get that luxury, though."

"I don't know how he's swinging it and I don't really care. I'm certainly not going to ask him."

"Well, I guess what I'm asking is if we wanted to go to a nicer restaurant versus whatever affordable sit-down eatery options there are if they'd be put off by that."

"Oh, I don't know. Maybe."

"You'd eat with her, though, right?"

"Sure," she said.

"Are you two still close?"

"Not really," she said. "I haven't talked to her a whole lot other than like Christmas cards and calls on birthdays since graduation really."

"But your friend has."

"April. Yes."

"Does she know about the brother?"

"I don't think so. As far as I know only she, the girl I mean, and I know what happened."

"One day when we're actually alone you'll have to explain to me why no one, like, called the police or anything."

"Because we were eighteen and drunk when we weren't supposed to be. Who was going to believe a girl under those circumstances?"

"I suppose," he said.

"As far as I know the only one who knows was me because she didn't trust her roommate not to tell anyone else."

"Makes sense."

"Can we talk about something else?"

"Sure, whatever you want."

"I want to be in Paris already so I don't have to deal with this."

"We'll be there soon enough and I promise to do my best to keep you busy so you don't have to think on it too much."

"That's not what you agreed to do."

"Well, I did say I want to see Paris."

"Yes."

"Well, I'd rather not do it alone. That wouldn't be a very boyfriendy thing to do."

"I suppose."

"And other than Morrison's grave I'm open to ideas."

"That's the only thing in Paris that's on your list to see?"

"Pretty much."

She laughed softly at that.

"This surprises you?"

"No, I guess not. I just didn't realize you liked The Doors that much."

"I spent many, many hours getting stoned to Morrison's voice and lyrics."

"I had no idea."

He shrugged.

"Have you ever actually listened to some of his lyrics? They're pretty good to get stoned to."

"I'll take your word for it."

They were among the last to deplane, which was fine with Claire. Of course that meant Bonnie and Allen were waiting for them at their gate. John apparently anticipated that being the case because he'd taken her hand once they were off the actual plane and headed toward their gate.

They managed to get out of eating with them by using the lounge again beforehand. John pawned it off as his fault not being able to eat right away after waking up from naps. It sounded plausible, Bonnie and Allen seemed to buy it at any rate.

Their flight to Paris was uneventful. They both slept on and off. Being in First Class they did not have to share the same blanket, though she suspected John would have if they'd had to. He was wide awake well before it was time to land this time. It was very early in the morning, which left them little option but to go their hotel and check-in because nothing would be open yet.

"Thank God they had already arranged for a car to take them from the airport," Claire said once they were in their room.

"Well, it probably helped that they weren't staying at the same hotel as us."

"Probably so," she agreed.

"So, what's on the agenda for the day then?"

"I think we're meeting Rene and April for breakfast around ten o'clock."

John glanced at the clock on the table in between their beds. She'd already claimed one as hers.

"Have you been here before?" he asked.

"Yes, not for a while, though. Why?"

"I don't know. We have time to kill and I'm surprisingly awake now."

She laughed softly.

"I bet you are."

"I'll pay for it later, I'm sure."

"Yes," she said. "There's dinner tonight, but nothing afterward. Just meeting everyone. You know, at Rene's house."

"I see. So, how did they meet if he's from here?"

"You know, I'm not really sure. Like I said, I wasn't really confident I'd be here today because of her past so I didn't pay as close attention to details as I maybe should have at first."

"And then it was too late for you to ask?"

"Right!" She was so glad he got it.

"Well, I can ask, though, right?"

"If you want, sure."

"Want to take a walk with me?"

"What?"

"You heard me. Let's go walk around. See what's what."

"There's not going to be anything open."

"That doesn't mean we can't look. I thought women loved window shopping."

"Well," she said. "Put like that." How could she say no?

"I'll shower and shave and everything when we get back before we go have breakfast with your friends."

"Okay," she said. "You look fine, really."

"I know. Meeting two of them looking scraggily is one thing, especially about to board a plane for twelve hours. Meeting the rest of them an entirely differently thing."

"Well, I honestly don't know how many are going to be here today. The wedding isn't until the weekend and not everyone works for their dad," she said with a shrug.

He chuckled a bit at that. "Are you saying you got more days off than you would ordinarily?"

"If my name wasn't on the door of the law firm? Yes."

"At least you can admit that."

"Of course I can, however, it's not like I've taken weeks of vacation already this year or anything. I knew about the wedding months ago, I just was assuming I'd do something else with this time other than fly to Paris."

"What would you have done?"

"I don't know. A week in Hawaii wouldn't have been so bad in December."

"No, it wouldn't have."

They both checked to be sure they had their keys as they made their way out of their room. Claire wasn't sure what she'd expected from him, but wanting to actually spend time with her when he didn't have to wasn't it. She probably wouldn't if the situation was reversed.

"What's on your watch?" she asked once they were by the front desk in the lobby and she noticed him adjusting it to the current local time.

"What?" he asked.

"Your watch? What's on it?"

"You mean you don't know?"

"No," she said, looking closer at it when he held it out in front of her to see. "Am I supposed to?"

"I'm crushed, Claire."

"What?"

He chuckled softly.

"It's Simon Forge."

"Who is he?"

"Come on, really?"

"Yes, I'm sorry. Am I supposed to know who he is?"

"Yes. He's only like the most famous character I've drawn."

"You draw him?"

"Yes. There's a movie about him opening in March."

"Really?"

"Yes, really."

"I'm sorry. I really didn't know."

"It's all right. I'm pretty much just teasing. I don't have you pegged as a comic fan so I wasn't expecting you to know. He's my design, though. From beginning to end. Rich came up with the idea of him, but he let me come up with what he'd look like."

"And they're doing a movie about him?"

"Yes, based on the comics. The first. If it does well, we're pretty sure there will be more as there's a slew of comics he's involved with to choose from. Not to mention his parents and others like him."

"Huh. So, he's like a super hero?"

"Kind of. He's more like," he paused and she could tell he was thinking it over. "Well, he's more like a mutant. He's the offspring of two pretty powerful superheroes so he has some pretty intense abilities and powers. His name, Forge, is because it took a huge amount of effort for his parents to have him because of their powers. It's kind of hard to explain. They don't have any other kids, though."

"I see. And they make watches featuring him?"

"Rich had it made for me when the movie deal went through because he said my picture of Simon is what sold him and made him so popular."

"That's very generous of him."

"It was, yeah," he said.

Claire hadn't noticed before but she couldn't help but notice now that it was a very nice watch, too. There was nothing cheap or anything about it. She wondered, in fact, if the face of the watch behind Simon was real gold. It was that nice of a watch.

He took her hand when they stepped outside from the hotel lobby. She had no idea what was around here really, but she supposed they'd find out together. She'd stayed at the hotel once before, but it was years ago and she hadn't really just walked around the area.

"Why didn't you tell me about the movie when we were emailing each other information?"

He shrugged. "I don't know. It's not like it's my movie. I mean my name will be in the credits somewhere but I didn't create him or anything."

"That is so cool."

"It's not like I'm making millions off of it or anything. Rich, on the other hand, I think is going to rake it in if the movie does well."

"If he's buying you nice watches I suspect he'll make sure some of that windfall goes your way, too."

"Maybe. We sure have come a long way from him laughing at my audacity for thinking I'd have designs to show him he hadn't seen a thousand times before by other comic penciler wannabes."

"I'm glad you didn't let his laughing at you discourage you."

"Nah, I'd invested too much of my time and money getting into the convention to let it."

"What would you have done if he'd said no? Or didn't like your work?"

"I would've found someone else. When we get back home if you want to come up I can show you the pictures I had at the time that got me the job. I still have them. No one but Rich has ever seen them because I drew them specifically to meet him."

"I'd love to see them."

"He was my first option because I loved his work, his storytelling. I would've found someone else, though. I mean, I couldn't go to college and I didn't have a business of my dad's to fall back on. Well, I did, sure, but that would mean working with my dad all day, every day and I wanted to avoid that."

"I know," she said.

"So, quitting and getting told no wasn't an option for me. I was going to find someone who'd put me to work or at least tell me they knew someone who could and would put me to work."

"You were so lucky."

"I was."

"And now look at you, movies made and stuff."

He chuckled. "Yeah, well, like I said, it's not that big of a deal for the guys like me. It's not like it's a real ice-breaker at a party."

"I'd think it would be."

"Well, the next party I go to I guess I'll see if you're right."

"You don't go to parties?"

"Sweets, I go to so many conventions every year that the last thing I want to do when I'm home is be surrounded by people. My dog, my office, and me are all that I need."

"Sounds kind of lonely."

"Not really. I get more work done at any rate."

"Friends?"

"I go out once in a while. You know. I just don't do the partying every night thing some of them still do."

"I understand."

"You?"

"No, I wasn't ever really a partier. I mean, you know, if it was around."

He snorted softly at that.

"What? It's true. I mean, sure in high school I went to parties all of the time, but college was," she shrugged. She wasn't sure how to say it without saying too much. "Different."

"I get it," he said. "What about your sorority."

"Oh, sure, but especially the last couple of years living off-campus I didn't feel as though I had to go to them every weekend. I got active in theater my freshman year, after pledging actually, and sort of developed a pretty solid base of friends. April did, too, that's how we stayed friends throughout college, I guess. I honestly think if I'd found the theater before pledging I never would have."

"Did you act?"

"I did. April did behind the stage stuff."

"No goals to be the next Meryl Streep?"

"Uh no. I don't think anyone could be the next Meryl Streep," she said.

He chuckled softly. "You're probably right," he said, squeezing her hand.

"Why are you holding my hand anyway?"

"I don't know. It seems like a boyfriend thing to do."

"No one's around."

"True, maybe I just wanted to. Should I let it go?"

"No, it's fine, I was just curious."

"No reason, really, but I also figured I'd be less inclined to do something I shouldn't do or forget to do something I should do if I just got into the habit of those things now. You know, even when no one's around."

"You're being entirely too nice about this."

"Nah, I don't blame you for not wanting to be alone and subjected to him knowing what you know about him. Man, he owns a bar, too. That's just wrong."

"Tell me about it," Claire said. She'd thought of that more than once when she'd heard through Bonnie what Allen was up to. God, talk about the ideal place for someone like him to be. A bar with access to the drinks and the women he wanted.

"Why'd you come here the last time?"

"Just to come here," she said with a shrug. "You know the touristy stuff. We went to the Louvre and stuff like that."

"Huh."

"Do you like art?"

"Well, I draw for a living, so that's kind of a silly question."

"Well, I meant, you know, like the Louvre. Would you like to see things here? Like Notre Dame? Chartres? The Opera House?"

"Whatever you want to show me I'll see."

"You don't have to work?"

"I brought work, but I have nothing that's on a tight deadline. If I do something it'd be to get ahead. I figured if you wanted to do something with your friends without me it'd be a viable excuse without making you look like you don't want to spend time with me in romantic Paris."

"Well, the same goes for you. If you want a break. There's nothing set in stone other than the rehearsal and wedding. You could probably forego the actual rehearsal if you wanted to anyway."

"We'll see," he said.

They headed back to their room after a while of walking around. They didn't do much window shopping, but Claire didn't mind. It was, she had to admit, kind of nice to just talk to him. She didn't talk to guys very frequently. Her own fault really. She just never knew what to say.

"So, you want me to leave the room and come back in thirty minutes or what?" John asked when she mentioned taking a shower.

"Are you going to watch me get dressed?"

"I am curious why you didn't get a suite. Didn't I hear Bonnie say this hotel had them?"

"You did and I thought that'd be weird. Why would we need an extra room?"

"You don't want your friends to think you make me sleep on the couch?"

"Kind of," she said.

"Fair enough, and I suppose I can avert my gaze while you get dressed."

"Then you don't have to leave and come back."

"What if I want you to watch me get dressed?" he asked.

"John," she said, but she laughed with a shake of her head at that. "I think, no," she said.

"I'm teasing, Claire. Go take your shower. I'll be fine. I'll check out your book. You said it was funny."

"Don't lose my spot!"

"I wouldn't dare!"

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