"Uh wow," John said when they arrived at Rene's house for dinner. Her friends had met them in town for lunch. His family lived a ways out of Paris in a very nice, very old house.
"Right," Claire said, obviously impressed herself.
"What does he do again?"
"I'm not sure," she said.
"Claire," he said with a soft chuckle.
"What? I'm not even sure that part came up!"
"The sister you never had and you don't want to know what her future husband does for a living?"
"I've been busy! Again, her track record indicated I wouldn't be here. He lived in France. It wasn't like I was going to have a reason to meet him!"
"I sort of see your point, but holy shit, Claire, I bet even your parents would be more than just a little impressed over this place."
"I know," she said.
"I'm glad you can acknowledge that."
"The place looks ancient, too," she said.
"It does look like it was around long before electricity and cars came into the picture."
"Can you imagine having to get to Paris from here in a buggy?"
"Uh, no," he said.
He'd never thought about things like that never having reason to, really. He got through history class and everything, but thinking about what life was like for anyone before the things he was used to never really entered his mind.
"I'll get it," he said when she started to open her car door to get out.
"They have people over there taking pictures. Real or not, I'm not the type of boyfriend that would make a girlfriend get out of a car on her own."
"Well, I suppose if we went to a bar or something maybe not, but I'd still do it if you waited for me to do it."
"And you're still single?"
"Don't have many guys open doors for you?"
He chuckled softly.
"I told, you, Sweets, you better be careful or you're not going to want to break us up in a couple of months."
"That would be an issue if I actually had to see you over the next couple of months."
"Ouch," he said.
"That's not how I meant it! I'm sorry. I mean, of course I'd see you, but you know, just as John, not as my boyfriend."
He chuckled. "Relax. I knew what you meant."
"Thank you," she said as he got out of the car. Theirs wasn't the only car here. In fact, there were more than a couple here, which made him wonder as he walked to her side of the car just how big this dinner tonight was going to be.
"I thought you said tonight wasn't a big deal," he said once she was standing next to him.
"It's not. Not that I know of. I don't even know who's here beyond the four of us. Well, six including April and Rene."
The front door opened almost immediately once they'd gotten there, allowing them to enter. John was totally out of his league and element as Claire engaged in a brief conversation with the woman greeting them in French. He sort of got the gist of it, though.
The woman seemed to be Rene's mother, Mrs. Sauvageau, which sounded to John like a real fancy way of saying Savage. Kind of ironic, because he knew enough from history books to know the name wasn't a complimentary one.
"Welcome to my home," she said, offering John her hand, which he took. He shook it as gracefully as he could. He wasn't a weak handshake person. His dad hadn't raised him to be that, teaching him that a lot could be told about a man from his handshake. This wasn't another man, though, and she didn't strike John as a common, run of the mill, middle-class woman either.
"Thank you for inviting us," he said, assuming she and Claire had already had a similar conversation.
"I apologize for the cameras outside. They will be there for most of the week, I'm afraid since Rene is staying here through until the wedding."
"It's not a problem," John said. What did he care?
So, the house wasn't his but his mother's. He felt infinitely better about what he'd been doing with his life and the fact he owned a mere condo than he had about two minutes ago. He'd always been pretty proud of what he'd accomplished since he'd done it completely on his own. He didn't have parents to front him money to start a business or send him to college. Seeing this place, though, made him question for a second or two just how well he was really doing in the grand scheme of things.
"You had a good flight in, I trust?" she asked.
"Yes, it was just fine."
"Good," she said. Again, John assumed she'd already asked Claire these questions.
"Lily will show you to the others."
"Thank you, ma'am," he said as he and Claire followed the person, Lily he presumed, who was heading down the hall.
"I didn't know you spoke French that well," he said quietly. Lily was a bit ahead of them and she didn't seem to be paying them any attention. She probably was paid pretty decently not to pay attention. He could honestly say he'd never been to anyone's house who had … What was she? A servant? Staff? Whatever, regardless. He'd never been to one.
"God, yes, I studied it all through high school and college."
"Huh," he said. "So, the Moliere thing…"
"I liked French literature."
"Can you read his stuff in French?"
"I can read most anything in French."
"Really? That fluent?"
"Well, I've kept up with it since college. I have a couple of friends who speak it and we write letters and stuff so that we keep using it."
"I can see that, I guess. Eight years' worth I suppose you don't want to forget it."
"No foreign languages for you?"
"Uh, no, Spanish in high school to fulfill Shermer's foreign language requirement. And other than cerveza I can't remember a word of it."
She laughed softly at that. "At least you remember the important word."
"Exactly. So, no problems understanding and talking with her?"
"You didn't like say anything I need to know, did you?"
"No. I told her your name."
"I got that much, yeah, thanks." He heard John clear as day. That was the only thing he understood beyond Claire's name.
"She asked if I was excited to spend a week in Paris with you."
"Oh. And you said?"
"I said I was of course."
"Pretty much. I've never met her before or anything. She was just being nice and obviously she had no way of knowing I knew French until I started speaking it."
"Right. There's a lot more people here than I had the impression there'd be."
"Me, too. April didn't say anything. Just that it was dinner."
"Maybe this is dinner to them."
"Maybe so," Claire said.
"Does April speak French?"
"Not that I know of, but I imagine she's looking at learning."
He chuckled a bit at that. "I bet she is. He doesn't have as thick of an accent as his mom does."
"No, I think he's spent some time in America. Clearly, they met there."
"Right, but you're not sure if he lives there."
"No! I'm sorry. I guess I'm a terrible friend."
"Well, if she was just any friend I'd say no, but you described her to me as…"
He chuckled, reaching in to kiss her on the cheek. "Relax, Sweets, I'm teasing you."
"Oh," she said.
He slid his arm around her waist then, drawing her to him a bit and kissing her. It wasn't a great kiss, but it was certainly better than the rather disinterested, peck-like, faux kisses she'd given him to this point. She wasn't too entirely thrilled he could tell when he drew away, but she had kissed him back. He knew first-hand she could kiss way better than that, though.
"All right. Let's go make nice with a group of people we'll likely never see again in our lives. At least I won't I guess. You may."
Lily had stepped away a few minutes ago, leaving them in the hallway by themselves. Whether they looked odd to anyone else standing out there, he wasn't sure. It was one of the reasons he'd kissed her, let whoever might have seen them standing there talking think they were having a personal conversation rather than one as mundane as it was.
The dinner wasn't too bad. They'd been seated next to Bonnie and Allen. John had been sure to get the spot right next to them so Claire wouldn't have to worry about sitting next to Allen. She didn't like him. At all. John didn't need to be a Rhodes Scholar to know that. How Bonnie and Allen weren't picking up on it, he wasn't sure, but the two of them talked away throughout dinner as if there was nothing wrong.
Claire, on the other hand, said very little and when she did she spoke only to Bonnie. In fact, now that John thought about it, he couldn't recall hearing Claire say one word to Allen. Even in the limo on the way to the airport. She usually responded to him or to Bonnie even if it was something Allen had said.
The four of them were some of the first to leave as they were seemingly the only four who'd flown in this morning and been up basically all day. John slept decently on the plane, but he never slept real soundly on airplanes. Admittedly, sitting next to Claire for hours was enough to make him a little self-conscious. He'd woken up in New York with his seatbelt unfastened and knew he hadn't done that. That meant she had. Utterly stupid and insane to get at all … excited … at that thought, but the idea of Claire Standish touching him anywhere was, he had to admit, a pretty exciting concept.
He wondered, not for the first time since she'd presented him with this idea of hers why she didn't have anyone. He'd assumed she'd be married with at least a kid or two by now. So when he'd seen in the reunion directory booklet thing that she was still Standish and seemingly not married or divorced he'd been pretty shocked. And more than a little interested. She hadn't said too much to him at the reunion, though, so thoughts of asking her out sort of left his mind. She hadn't been a bitch to him or anything, but she hadn't acted as if she even remembered spending the afternoon making out with him their senior year. Of course, there was no telling how many guys between then and now she'd made out with for that afternoon not to be such a big deal to her.
He'd just assumed for whatever reason she'd be well onto her way to the perfect life, ending with a bunch of grandkids surrounding her while she died peacefully in her sleep. That was just the way he pictured her life when he'd thought about her over the years.
Not that she was a focal point of his thoughts obsessively or anything. She was a hard woman to forget, though. Try as he might over the years to find someone he enjoyed kissing as much as he had her he couldn't do it.
The kissing itself wasn't a huge deal. Not really. He'd never since her, or if he wanted to be honest before her either, been brought to the verge of coming in his jeans from kissing.
She was a little more comfortable holding his hand as they left the house than she had been going inside. She hadn't been that weird about it earlier that morning so he had no idea what happened in the past few hours that made her seem hesitant to want to do that.
He stopped her from getting into the car right away, sliding his arms around her a bit.
"So, where to, Claire?"
"Well, it's our first night in Paris. Dinner is over. Your friends didn't invite themselves to join us with whatever we might be doing after dinner. So, it's just us. What do you want to do?"
"Well," she said, seeming to think on the options. "I thought you were tired."
"Oh, I am," he said. "That doesn't mean we couldn't go for a drink somewhere to really ensure we both sleep well tonight."
"Afraid you won't?"
He chuckled a bit, leaning in to kiss her as Allen and Bonnie drove past them. She kissed him back much better this time. It still wasn't anywhere near as nice as he recalled her kissing him once before, but it was definitely better than what he'd gotten earlier. He almost didn't want to stop kissing her except, he thought as she groaned softly against his mouth it could get very dangerous. The fact that she was going to be sleeping a few feet away from him. Yeah, the thought occurred to him he may not sleep too well. An airplane was different. This was a room, with beds, and privacy in a city where she was a bit on edge because of the lie she'd told about them.
"At least we know how to do that convincingly," he murmured as he drew away. He didn't stop holding her, though. He wasn't quite ready for that.
He sighed softly. "Yes, we do," he said. "We always did."
"I guess so."
He frowned a bit at that. She didn't think so? He recalled very distinctly she enjoyed kissing him immensely back then. Did she not remember it that way anymore? Then, he supposed too, maybe what she liked had changed over the years. He knew what he liked hadn't changed. "So, was that a yes to the drink?"
"Sure," she said. "Though we could just stop at the hotel bar before going up to our room. That way we wouldn't have to drive afterward."
"Good thinking," he said, reaching with one of his hands for her cheek. He skimmed it with his thumb lightly. "You okay, Princess?" he asked.
"Yeah, why?" she asked.
"I don't know. You look…" he shrugged. "Sad for lack of a better word."
"That's good because if kissing me makes you sad I'd seriously have to take a look at what I was doing wrong."
"Kissing you doesn't make me sad other than knowing it's fake."
"That didn't feel very fake to me, Claire."
She sighed softly and pushed on his chest a bit so he'd step away. He did not want to crowd her if she didn't want him to. He was pretty good at faking a lot of things, but kissing was not one of them. He didn't think many could really. It was either one of those things you enjoyed doing with the person on the other end of it or you didn't.
"Let's go get that drink."
"All right," he said. "What's your poison anyway?"
"Drink of choice? Besides margaritas anyway."
"Oh," she shrugged. "Gin and tonic."
"Really?" he asked, surprised. He hadn't pegged her as the gin type.
"I should know that for Saturday, right?"
"I guess you should," she answered, seeming to think on that.
"What? That's what I drink. I suppose a Seven and Seven if I really need to have a mixed drink. I suppose being in Paris it's not acceptable to drink beer. They couldn't get married in Germany, could they?"
He opened her door for her again after she reached for it. She was in a hurry to get out of here now for some reason. She hadn't been a few minutes ago, closing it when she got in and walking to the driver's side. Something told him this was going to be a very long night.
John laid in bed, staring at the ceiling. The drink they'd had before coming up here hadn't helped much.
"What are your parents' names?" he asked.
"I should know that, shouldn't I? I mean, I would presume I've at the very least met your dad if I've gone to your office to get you for lunch and stuff."
"Frank and Emily."
"Christopher and Claire."
"Mom doesn't work, right?"
"Nope," Claire said.
"Not the working part, Sweets. I meant, tell me about him. Stuff I should know."
"Oh. He's four years older than us. He's divorced."
"Really?" That surprised him. Immensely.
"They got married right out of college before law school and stuff. I don't think she realized how hard it is. She assumed it'd be easy."
"Because the job was cast in stone."
"Right, but you still have to do the school work and pass the exams. I mean, if everyone became a lawyer – or a doctor – simply because they wanted to be. Well, there'd be doctor and lawyer offices on every street corner. Sure, Dad could have lawyers help Christopher study, but he's the one who had to do the work, graduate, and pass the boards. No one else could do that for him. I mean, especially being a criminal attorney, he had to study hard to know his stuff. We all did, of course, but when you have someone's life potentially hanging in the balance it's sort of urgent you know what you're doing."
"Right. I can see that," he said. "And law school can't be a cakewalk, regardless of a job waiting for you on the other end of things."
"Exactly! And then, well, you have to do the work so that the other lawyers Dad has working for him actually think you deserve to be a part of the Standish Law Firm. Am I complaining? No, I get that I have it so much better than hundreds of other lawyers in Chicago. I had a job before I graduated law school and I was able to basically choose what I wanted to practice. My boss was willing to do that for me, add my specialty to the firm. Not all bosses would do that, you know? Dad didn't need a corporate attorney. His firm was doing just fine without me."
"What would you have done if your dad wouldn't have done it?"
She was quiet for a few minutes, thinking he imagined.
"I don't know. The thought never entered my mind that he wouldn't let me practice the type of law I felt most comfortable practicing. Now, if one of the lawyers got sick and I needed to go to court for a day so that a client had an attorney, could I do it? Sure, I could. I mean, I could defend people until I'm old and grey, it's just not what I wanted to do."
"I'm glad," he said softly.
"Why?" she asked, sounding genuinely curious as to why he'd say that. He wasn't honestly sure why he thought that either. Other than, well, one of the things he'd always liked about Claire was that she was inherently a good person. A just person. An honest person. (The reason for him being here in Paris with her currently aside obviously.)
"I don't know if I can explain it beyond the fact that I can't help but think defending people accused of crimes would have to weigh on a person after a while. Sure, okay, maybe most of the day to day cases aren't horrendous. You mentioned Jeffrey Dahmer, though. I mean, John Wayne Gacy happened right here, miles from us. Someone had to defend him. I couldn't imagine someone like you sitting in court day after day for months like a trial of his took, listening to details of his crimes and it not … changing you in some way."
"And that would be bad?"
"I think so," he said, hoping that wasn't saying too much. A couple of drinks and being crazy tired was liable to leave him with a loose tongue.
"Thank you. I told you I just wasn't cut out for it. I'm not the type of person that could just leave things at the office at the end of the day. I'm just not. I know this about myself. I interned with a criminal attorney for a summer between my sophomore and junior years. It was absolutely fascinating and … God, talk about exhilarating. I had dreams, though. I'd see the exhibit pictures in my mind and I'd wake up not able to go back to sleep."
"That had to be hard."
"It was. I had a long talk with my dad after that. He told me to talk to my advisor about other possibilities. That he'd work with me. He gave me a list of some specialties he would like to have seen added and I sort of went from there."
"That was nice of him. Really. I mean, some dads would have told you to buck up and deal with it. Criminal defense has to be where the money is."
"Yes. I don't make nearly as much on a case by case basis, but I think I said once before I'm also able to churn out cases more frequently so my billable hours can be crazy high some months."
"So? Christopher," he said, wanting to know what happened to her brother. He didn't want to not know if he was asked or if someone said something.
"Oh. Right. Sorry. They weren't even married two years."
"On his son especially."
"They were married for less than two years and had a kid?"
"She didn't know she was pregnant when they filed for divorce. They got divorced in August, he was born in February."
"Wow. So, he's like never known his parents as being a parental unit."
"Yet, they were clearly in a position to make a baby if they had one not real long after they got divorced."
"I never really thought about it like that before. Who knows? Being able to have sex with one another doesn't mean they were happy. She got remarried less than two years later so who knows?"
"What's his name?"
"He's how old?"
"Eight. He'll be nine in February."
"Who has him?"
"Believe it or not, Christopher does."
"Because she gave him up."
"I don't know. She was a vindictive bitch?"
"That's pretty harsh, Claire."
"Well, she thought Christopher was choosing his job and our dad over her. So, she thought she'd punish him by giving him custody."
"What did he do with a baby?"
"Mom helped a lot. He hired someone, I mean, you know, Mom didn't do the actual diaper changing."
John chuckled softly at that.
"Is he okay?"
"Yeah, he seems to do all right. He sees Tammy, his mom, every other weekend and for six weeks during the summer. They share holidays as decently as they can. She lives just north of Madison now. She's remarried and has two more kids. A boy and a girl, I think, but I couldn't tell you their names. I think they're five and two or four and two. The youngest one is around two, I know that."
"Well, that's good at least. I mean, that he sees his mom and half-siblings."
"And your parents?" she whispered.
"What about them?"
"Are they still around?"
He chuckled. "They're still in Shermer, yes. Or were you asking if they were still alive? I really don't know. I presume so. They're names haven't appeared in the obituary columns that I've seen."
"Do you have brothers and sisters?"
"I had a brother."
"You said had."
"He died when we were kids."
"Oh my God. I'm so sorry, I had no idea."
"Why didn't I know this before?"
"What do you mean? Why would you?" He didn't tell anyone about him actually. He could count on one hand and have three fingers left over now after telling Claire how many people knew about his brother.
"How old were you?"
"I was in Kindergarten, so," he said, thinking in his head to how old he was. "Hmm. I was five I guess. He was three."
"You know, I really am not sure. I mean, I was at school. I came home from school and the police and stuff were there."
"He died at home?"
"Yes. Dad told me he didn't wake up from a nap. I was too little to understand that was odd for someone his age. By the time I was old enough to know better," he shrugged. Not that Claire could see him do it in the darkness. "Well, what was I supposed to do? Say I thought my mom did something fishy that caused him to stop breathing? He was a little…"
"Special. You know? Mom was drinking and stuff by the time she was pregnant with him. I think it had an effect on him."
"Oh," she said, clearly understanding what he was getting at. John's memories of Josh were pretty vague anymore, and he didn't have a whole lot of experience with little kids in general to know if his suspicions about him were correct or just his imagination breathing life into his suspicions.
"So, I don't know. Would I put it past her to do that? Some days I say no way would she, but some days. I realize how easy her life was without Josh around. I mean, easy in comparison."
"You're not going to, like call the police on her or anything are you?"
"No, why would I do that?"
"I don't know, I'm not sure what your obligation is here. I'm basically suggesting to you a crime may have been committed."
"You don't know for sure and I wouldn't put you through the ordeal of having his body exhumed or anything for a chance. Obviously the police didn't see anything suspicious that day or your mom wouldn't be free today."
"Right," John said. He'd thought on that, too, over the years as he bounced back and forth on whether he truly thought his mother was capable of doing what he thought she may have done.
"They never tried for another one?"
"Not that I know of. I suspect, believe it or not, my dad learned his lesson and didn't want another one. I mean, Mom apparently couldn't stop drinking for nine months with him he probably realized she was further gone into her bad habits after he died."
"I suppose," she said softly. "I honestly had no idea. I'm so sorry."
"It was a long time ago."
"Do you have a picture of him or anything?"
"I do," he said. "Actually, Simon Forge resembles him. No one else knows that." Of course no one else knew that, because no one else knew about Josh. His parents, as far as he knew, had never seen any of his work so they wouldn't see the resemblance and he wasn't sure they'd see it anyway. John sort of … embellished a bit on what Josh looked like, altered him a bit to give him the appearance worthy of the product of two superheroes. And, well, Josh was three when he died so there was a lot to embellish making him into an older teenaged character.
"That's sweet," she said.
"I couldn't help but picture him when Rich was telling me about Simon. I don't know why exactly. I mean, I have no idea what made me think of Josh, but I did. And that, you know, somehow," John shrugged again.
"Someone would see him as you saw him?"
"Yeah. He wasn't like severely retarded or anything. He was just slow. He was a good kid, just a lot of work. Even for me when I tried to do things with him like play or color. When I was his age I was potty trained and could, you know, kind of take care of myself. Color on my own, turn the TV on, and pour myself some cereal if Mom left the box and bowl on the table for me to reach. I wasn't, like, cooking myself meals or anything, but you know I wasn't entirely reliant on my mom for every little thing."
"Josh was. He couldn't do any of that. I mean, Mom had to be hands-on with him from the time he woke up until he went to sleep. He wasn't potty trained when he died. I thought when I got a little older, like junior high school older I mean, that it was because Mom was too lazy to do it."
"It made sense to me at the time. In a weird way. Keep him a baby? I don't know. I wasn't thinking that, obviously, him not being in diapers anymore would be so much easier on her."
"So, as I got older, you know, probably within the last six or seven years I realized that he probably was just behind. You know. I remember, vaguely, Mom working with him on going and stuff."
"I'm sorry I brought it up."
He snorted. "You didn't, Sweets. Me and my big mouth did asking you about your family."
"Well, obviously I'm not going to bring up your brother this week."
"Thanks," he said.
"And you don't talk to them?"
"No. They know how to get a hold of me, but I don't seek them out."
"Right," she said.
"Ironically, I'd probably talk to my old man before her."
"I guess I kind of don't blame you."
"Really? Because I think that and in my head I sound like a masochist for thinking that way."
"Not at all. And, well, who knows what losing a son did to him?"
"I think that way sometimes, too, but I haven't, like, initiated conversations with him. Unlike you and Bonnie, I do not send them Christmas cards or call them on their birthdays."
"Do you remember when their birthdays are?"
"Uh," he said, thinking on that. "I think so. It's been so long since it was a necessary bit of information I'm not sure anymore. Dad's is in August I think and Mom's was in April."
"Well, that's better than not knowing at all."
"Can I ask you something?" he asked after a few minutes of silence on both of their parts. Who knew what she was thinking, but he didn't want to go to sleep thinking about Josh or his parents.
"Sure," she said, though she didn't sound certain.
"Why'd you have to ask me to come here?"
"What do you mean?"
"Why did you basically have to pay for me to come here and pretend to be your boyfriend? I mean, forget the plane ticket and the hotel. The hotel and car you would've had the expense of anyway. You offered to buy me suits and a passport."
"I did," she said, sounding as if she maybe wished he didn't remember that part of her offer. "John, I explained this to you that night at Chi Chi's."
"Oh, I know what you told me, but that doesn't answer my question. Why aren't you actually involved with someone? You know, someone you could actually bring here. Maybe even someone you would actually want here."
"No one to be involved with?"
"You don't sound so sure of that answer."
"I've just been busy, you know. I work and, well, it just hasn't been a priority for me."
"Don't you want kids?" If anyone from Shermer High should've been living the dream life of a house with two cars, a dog, and two and a half kids it was Claire. He was still surprised she wasn't on her way to achieving that dream.
"Well, sure, one day. You know. I'm only twenty-eight."
"I know. I was just curious I guess. You're attractive, smart, have a good job, and are socially more than acceptable to bring somewhere in public."
She sighed softly, turning onto her side to face him. He was guessing that's what she was doing anyway. With the curtains closed it was pretty dark in here. He just sensed she'd turned toward him rather than away from him.
She didn't say anything else for a very long time. So long, in fact, he assumed she'd fallen asleep and he was teetering on doing the same thing himself. He was glad that they'd forced themselves to stay up all day. They'd talked about a nap after lunch, but both decided against it to better their chances of sleeping well tonight.
"It was me," she whispered.
"What?" he mumbled.
"The friend of mine I told you about. You know. With Allen."
His eyes shot open at that. He wasn't as close to being asleep as he had been ten seconds ago. In fact, he was very much awake with those last two words.
"I was so embarrassed," she said and he kept his mouth shut for the time being. "You asked me why no one went to the police. That's why I didn't go to the police. I was embarrassed. I was drunk, but I hadn't let myself get that drunk. I knew better than that! He was, you know, older plus kind of cute, and paying attention to me. He was my friend's older brother so I thought he'd be a good person to like. He flirted with me. I honestly didn't know. You know? I woke up in the basement of the house we were at for the party. Whether he did it deliberately or not he probably saved my life because he left me on my side so when I threw up whatever he'd given me it was on the floor instead of me, like, drowning in it because I was still unconscious when my body was trying to get rid of it."
She was quiet again, but he had no idea what the fuck to say to that. He was sorry? That he wanted to find a gun and go kill the guy?
"I guess I'm grateful he brought me there, the basement I mean, instead of a bedroom where anyone else could have found me passed out and half naked. Who knows what would've happened to me then. I got back to my dorm room and sat in the shower for probably forty-five minutes to an hour. I scrubbed every inch of myself to the point I was raw in some places. I just, God, I couldn't get the smell of him off of me."
"Claire," he whispered.
"And then to make matters worse I got pregnant out of it. I had nobody to tell. They were all friends with Bonnie, too. You know, part of the sorority. I couldn't say anything. Who was going to believe me? My being a virgin was unheard of. I swear I didn't know anyone else who was and especially going into the last couple months of our freshman year."
He would've believed her because he would've known she wasn't the type of girl to just randomly have sex with someone at a party. He was pretty sure to this day she would've had sex with him that day at school if he'd pushed more than he had for them to go that far. He hadn't, though. He still wasn't sure why he hadn't beyond the fact she deserved better than that for her first time. He knew he wasn't going to get another chance at being the one to do that, but for the first time in his life he'd felt right and good about something he'd done. He wasn't sure he'd ever felt that right or good about anything else since then. He wasn't sure what that said about him.
"What did you do?" he asked. She obviously didn't have a kid, but there were still a couple of options that left.
She sighed softly. "I had a friend who moved to Minneapolis when we were kids."
"I didn't know who else to call. We'd kept in touch, you know. She was actually kind of an ideal friend. A pen pal. We could tell each other anything. I even told her about you."
"Right," he said, cautiously not liking where this was going. He was really wishing he hadn't asked her anything tonight. If he could go back and start this part of the night over he'd keep his mouth shut instead of asking her about her family or anything.
"She was going to U of M so I went to stay with her for a couple of days and she went with me. I missed a couple days of classes, but I told my professors I had a family emergency and made sure I caught up on the homework. I got back to school and no one suspected a thing."
"He doesn't know?" he asked. A logical question, he thought. He'd want to know, but then he had never drugged and forced a girl to have sex with him either.
"Are you kidding me? No. I haven't really spoken to him since. I mean, if I have to I will."
"And no one knows?"
"No, just Rachel, and she doesn't know the details just that I needed to do that and didn't want anyone else to know about it. As far as I know she's never told a soul."
What the fuck was he supposed to say to that? He had absolutely no fucking idea. There was a reason he didn't have good friends because he just wasn't an open up and share kind of guy. He slid out of his bed then. He knew she was watching him even though he couldn't see her doing it as he walked to the other side of her bed. She was on the edge closest to his bed.
"What are you…"
"Relax," he said, drawing the covers back enough to slide in.
"John, I just told you that and you think that what? That's an invitation to have sex with me?"
"I'm going to ignore that question, Princess," he said. "I know you don't think I'm the kind of guy that'd think that or I wouldn't be here with you this week."
"John," she said again as he slid an arm around her and drew her closer to him.
"Shh," he whispered. "Just relax and go to sleep."
"What?" she said. He could feel her heart increase. Was he really scaring her?
"Claire. Come on. You trusted me enough to share a room with me."
"A room! Not a bed!"
"You think sleeping in a separate bed would stop me from doing something bad if I had it in my head to do that?"
"I…" she said.
"Would you just relax and let me try and make an attempt at comforting you. I realize I may not be very good at it, but that's what I'm trying to do here."
"Oh," she said softly.
It took her a while to relax. He could hear her breathing taper off to a more even rate than the almost hyperventilating level it'd been at a few minutes ago. He knew it wasn't him specifically that had her freaking out.
"John," she whispered.
"Princess. I can behave myself. I'm not so sure about you, but you know I'm willing to take the chance."
She laughed softly at that and he took that as a good sign.
He kissed the top of her head, drawing her a little closer against him now that she'd settled down. She fit kind of nicely against his chest he had to admit, even if it was an inappropriate thing to think right now.
"I'm sorry," he whispered.
"No, I'm sorry. I'm sorry that happened to you. I'm sorry that someone you thought you could trust violated that trust so completely. I'm sorry that you were left alone to make a huge decision like that and then had to do it basically alone. I'm sorry you've had to live with that for the past nine years."
"Thank you," she murmured.
"You realize I want to beat the ever living shit out of him now, don't you?"
She sighed softly.
"I won't. I'll refrain, but damn it, Claire."
"Is that why you kiss me so strange?"
"What?" she asked.
"I don't know. Sometimes you kiss me very nicely, like I remember you kissing. Sometimes you," he shrugged. "I don't know. Seem like you'd rather be doing laundry."
"I don't," she shrugged. "I haven't. No."
"Since then? Nine years?"
"No. I can't. I mean, I've gone on dates, but I see ridiculous things wrong with them. Sometimes it's not so ridiculous, but sometimes I'm just paranoid and screw up by doing or saying something flighty that make them never call me back."
"And your friends don't think it's strange you don't date?"
"Not really. And now that you're here…"
"They're going to think you liked me all along?"
"Something like that."
"Aww, Princess, that'd be flattering if you hadn't just told me what you did."
"I can just kiss you, you know?"
She sighed softly against his chest.
"I don't expect anything else from you. I'm trying to give you, your friends too I guess, what's right. We've known one another for years so clearly I didn't see anything wrong with kissing you in public."
"I know," she whispered. "I just I'm not even sure I know how anymore."
"Oh," he said. "Well, trust me, outside Rene's house you knew exactly what you were doing."
"You're just saying that."
"No, no I'm not."
"Thank you," she whispered.
"You don't have to sleep in my bed. I'm fine now."
"Princess, you just told me something pretty important."
"So did you…"
"No. No way in hell was what I told you about Josh anywhere near what you told me. I was a kid who lost his kid brother. It doesn't affect who I am today or anything. I mean, maybe, but that wasn't something done to me."
She giggled softly.
"What?" he asked.
"I just realized John and Josh."
"Yeah," he said, chuckling softly himself. "I guess my parents weren't very original."
"Huh?" he asked.
"Well, you're just John not Jonathan. Was he Joshua?"
"Oh, nope, just Josh."
"Does your brother go by Chris?"
"Sometimes with friends. I don't usually call him that, though."
"Why'd you tell me?"
"Because I hate him. I swear I don't use that word lightly and just toss it around about anyone who makes me mad. I truly hate him and what he did to me and the things I go through to this day because of it. I mean, do you know how guilty I feel?"
"I know realistically I have absolutely nothing to feel guilty about, but I do. I look at Michael and he's about the same age…"
"Oh," he said, not having thought of that at all.
"When I found out Christopher was going to have a baby. Well, you know, Tammy. I got sick all over again. I don't think I've cried as much as I did the night he called to tell me."
"I know. I wonder, you know, working where he works…"
"I've thought on that, too, and that was before I knew it was you."
"It makes my skin crawl. I swear to God I want to take another hour long shower just by being near him again. I hate that! I hate that he can still make me feel that way."
"Settle down. Please don't start freaking out again on me, Princess. I don't know where the nearest hospital is and I'm not sure I want to have to explain to someone why my getting into bed caused you to panic so badly I had to bring you in to one."
"I'm just a funny guy. What can I say? I wish I could say I understand. I can't. I know that and I'm sorry that you feel that way. However, I also understand why you wanted me here and you do an amazing job at not letting him know you feel that way."
"Thank you," she whispered.
"If April hadn't asked you to be in the wedding would you be here?"
"If I knew Allen was going to be here?"
"No," she said.
"Good," he said. "Are you going to sleep all right?"
"I," she said, pausing. "I'm not sure. Are you?"
"I don't know either. I currently have this deep desire to find their hotel and …"
"You can't tell anyone!"
"I know that. It doesn't mean I don't want to beat the shit out of him."
"You're a good man, John."
He snorted softly at that. "Don't let that get around."
"I'll try not to spread it."
"Thanks. Now go to sleep."
"Are you going to move back to your bed?"
"I'll see how we work this out. Unless you want me to right now."
"No, you can stay."
"You want me to leave…"
"I'll tell you."
"At least I can see them tomorrow and think my relationship with you isn't a complete lie."
He chuckled softly at that. "You kiss me like you did at Rene's house we can convince them it's not a lie very capably."
Story ©Susan Falk/APCKRFAN/PhantomRoses.com