They had two days basically to do whatever they wanted to do until they were on her friend's time, more or less. John still hadn't seen her dress because she hadn't taken it out of the garment bag to this point so he had no idea what she was going to look like. A few of them in from out of town were going somewhere in a little bit to do some wine tasting. John had no real desire to do that, but he thought he'd look kind of like an asshole for bailing on her on one of the few things a group of them were doing.
He was in the restaurant, drinking some coffee while she was getting dressed. After their first night and everything she'd told him he hadn't felt right sitting in the room while she showered and got dressed. He didn't care how all right she was with it. He brought his sketch pad and some pencils down with him to the restaurant and passed his time just fine while waiting for her.
She didn't feel rushed and he got his time to draw for a bit. She seemed to understand he had a need to do that. It wasn't just a job to him. He'd been drawing since as long as he could remember. It was the only thing his parents really did right by him with, keeping him supplied in paper and pencils. The first time he'd ever gotten hit was because he'd drawn on the wall in his bedroom when he was about three or four. He couldn't tell anyone what he'd been drawing, but he remembered how furious his father had been because he had just painted the walls not that long ago. He had fared better than his mom that evening because she'd been accused of not watching him properly. His mom never let him run out of paper and crayons after that. He supposed they weren't the world's worst parents, but he was very glad to be out of their house.
"There you are," Allen said.
"Uh yeah," John said.
Bonnie was with him, of course. He thought it was a little odd that the two of them traveled together and were even sharing a room, but whatever worked for them. It made him wonder, though, why Allen wasn't staying with her kids so Bonnie's husband could come. Then John remembered Allen and the groom were friends, too. So, he supposed Allen would be here regardless.
"Am I supposed to be somewhere else?" he asked. He didn't think so. Claire hadn't mentioned anything in advance of the wine tasting trip.
"So, where's Claire?"
"Still getting dressed, I imagine." Wasn't it obvious? Maybe not. She clearly wasn't here yet, though, as there was only one cup of coffee on his table and no evidence of a second person sitting there.
"Why are you down here?" Allen asked.
Good question. He imagined it probably seemed a little odd for him to be down here. This wasn't the first time John wasn't glad they weren't in the same hotel.
"Well, she takes forever to get ready. So, we shower, I get dressed then come down here to get my coffee and draw for a bit while waiting for her. She doesn't feel rushed because she knows if I start drawing something she could take three hours and I'd never notice the time passing."
"You can do that? Just sit and draw all day?" Allen asked. He was clearly not impressed and wasn't trying to sugar coat that opinion of John's occupation. It was nothing new, John encountered it all of the time. It was one of the reasons he hadn't stayed at the reunion for very long. For some reason, though, this guy giving him that look bothered him.
"That is kind of what people pay me to do, yeah," he said.
"And you can make an actual living that way? Drawing comics?" he asked.
"Allen," Bonnie said cautiously.
"Well, I'm not living in a cardboard box on a street corner outside of Claire's house, so I guess I must do okay, yeah," he said.
"I'm sorry, John, really. My brother doesn't mean to be rude," Bonnie said.
He did, too, mean to be rude, and Allen and John both knew it. John couldn't figure out why exactly he was purposely being rude to John. John had, as far as he knew anyway, been an ideal date to this point. He'd been polite, affectionate without going overboard, participated in conversations when he needed to, and was about to drive an hour or so with this guy that he'd much prefer beat over the head so that they can taste wine together.
"It's not a problem. If I had a nickel for every time someone asked me if I can actually make a living doing what I do I'd be pretty rich. Certainly I'd be able to afford a better cardboard box than the one I currently reside in. You should stop by sometime I just got new carpet put in and everything. Claire says it really keeps it warm in there when there's snow on the ground."
"Hey," Allen said.
"Are you drawing something for a comic now?" Bonnie asked quickly.
"Nah," John said. "I'd never stop if I started working on something for work. I just come down here and draw whatever."
He set the drawing of the waitress he'd been working on down on the table so they could see it. She knew he was drawing it and had stopped more than a couple of times when he was down here to see how he was progressing.
"That's really very good," she said.
"Thanks," he said, chuckling softly at the sound of surprise in her voice. He was used to that reaction, too.
"I'm sorry. I just, you hear comics and I just assumed…"
"I couldn't draw real things?"
"I just like comics," he said. Comics had saved his life growing up. The idea that there were people like Captain America, Wonder Woman, and Batman out there gave him hope in a household where there was little of that. Oddly, he never got disappointed that they never showed up at his house to save the day or anything. He had no doubt they had more important things to worry about than kids like him. It was the idea that they were out there, fighting the forces of evil that kept him interested. John's dad wasn't evil. He was a jackass, but he wasn't evil. Even as a kid John knew the difference.
"I didn't realize you guys were meeting us for breakfast today," he said, watching Allen take in John's picture. The guy tried not to show he was impressed, but even John had to admit it was pretty good work. Of course, he'd had the same waitress each morning he'd come down here so he had plenty of time to work on this particular drawing. He was going to give it to her when he was done with it. He'd sign it, too. He didn't always, but she'd been nice about him sitting at her table for hours every day now.
"Oh, well, we caught a cab here so you wouldn't have to wait on us…"
So they presumed they could eat with them, too. He'd rather stick forks in his eye, but that wasn't the right answer to give.
"You did get a ride back to town, right? I know Claire mentioned taking a drive into the country after the tour and tasting and I think she'd be pretty disappointed not to be able to do that."
They'd done a lot with their two days. Claire was a good tour guide. Morrison's grave was the first thing they'd done because she'd wanted to make sure they hadn't run out of time for it since it was the one thing he specified wanting to see and visit. Wednesday they'd done a lot of driving and walking around, looking at things like cathedrals and stuff. Yesterday they'd spent a crazy amount of time at the Louvre.
"Oh," Bonnie said. "Yes, we have that taken care of. We don't want to be the reason you cancel your plans."
It was a horrible idea, them riding with them. How Claire could stand to be within twenty feet of the guy John couldn't understand. He didn't want to be this close to him and the guy hadn't done anything to him. He had done something to someone he genuinely liked, though. He could count on one hand how many people he felt that way about. Claire and Rich were at the top of the list because they'd both liked him, seen something in him at a time no one else had.
He'd drawn her once after that day at school. He hadn't been gutsy enough to give it to her himself, but he picked the lock on her locker and left it for her there. He imagined she knew it'd been from him because who else did she know who'd be able to pick her lock? She'd never said anything, though, then they hadn't talked really after that day. She had her prom thing to do and he'd had getting out of his house to do.
He supposed the polite thing to do would be to invite them to sit down, but he really didn't want to. He hoped they'd leave and find their own way there before Claire got down here. He'd already been down here for a while when they'd gotten here so he wasn't too surprised to see her walk in. Their backs were to her so only he saw the look on her face when she saw them there.
Evidently she hadn't thought they'd be here this soon either. He had no idea why they hadn't rented their own car. This wasn't the first time he'd wondered why she was still friends with Bonnie in the first place, but he supposed it wasn't so easy to get rid of a friend when no one knew about the situation.
"There you are," he said, standing when she got close to his table.
"I'm sorry I took so long."
"You look great so it was worth waiting for," he said, kissing her before she took the spot next to his at the table. She didn't usually, but he guessed she presumed they'd sit down and eat with them, too.
She said something in French to the waitress who knew Claire by now simply because she came down and sat with John every morning after he'd been down here for thirty minutes to an hour by himself. She spoke English just fine, otherwise John wouldn't have been able to do much more than order coffee, but he'd managed to talk to her a little bit. She knew they were from Chicago at any rate.
"I didn't realize you were going to get here this early," Claire said.
"Well, I couldn't remember what time you said you wanted to leave," Bonnie said.
"Oh," Claire said. "Well, I haven't eaten yet or anything obviously."
John noticed she wasn't doing the polite thing immediately and offering to let them sit down with them. He wasn't exactly in a hurry to do that either.
He offered her his hand, which she took. He did that most of the time now after what she'd told him. He still kissed her first, but touching. Well, she seemed to appreciate him giving her the choice in the matter about holding his hand rather than him just taking hers. Usually, the kissing came after they were already touching so she seemed to expect it then. Or at least that's what he told himself. He wasn't sure.
"It's kind of late for breakfast, isn't it?" Allen said.
"Claire was on the phone until after three o'clock this morning talking to one of her clients," John said, not that it was any of the guy's business. They'd gotten back from being out to multiple messages at the front desk for her from Sonia about the same thing. All seemingly more urgent than the next one. They'd gotten back to their room around one, which was still a reasonable time in Chicago so Claire had called immediately and worked on the situation.
When it was clear it was going to be a lengthy phone conversation, John had left the room and gone down to the bar. He wasn't sure what the deal was, but he knew she was a lawyer and he probably shouldn't be around overhearing anything said on a phone call with her client.
She'd found him a couple of hours later, looking very exhausted. They'd had a drink before heading back up to their room for bed. She'd seemed to need the drink where John had been having the couple he did just to pass the time. He knew she'd come down and get him when she was done.
"Oh," Allen said.
"Oh my God. I completely forgot. That means you didn't get to call Rich back," she said, seeming to just now remember mixed in with her more than half-dozen messages was one for him as well.
"It's all right. I didn't forget. I'll call him later on probably after the rehearsal."
"I'm so sorry," she said. "I should have let you call him first! I didn't know it was going to take so long though."
"Princess, you had a slew of messages. I had one. If it was urgent Rich would have said so in that one message. He didn't so I assume it's not. Yours obviously was. He can wait. I told him I wouldn't be immediately available."
"I know. I just feel terrible."
"Don't, please," he said.
He honestly had no idea what Rich would want. He assumed maybe it was something to do with the movie coming up. There were all sorts of things going on with that. Rich had insisted his usual Simon Forge crew handle the full-sized movie posters so that the artwork stayed true to the comics. That meant John had had to pencil a much bigger Simon Forge than he was accustomed to.
He had to admit the final product was pretty fucking amazing. He thought he remembered the posters were slated to start to be distributed here pretty soon so it was probably something to do with that, telling John so he'd know. It was different seeing his work at comic book stores. This was a poster that anyone who was anyone going to a movie theater would see.
He wondered what Allen would think about that, but didn't really care enough to ask.
Rich and the other higher ups were coming up with ways to monetize Simon yet still get positive publicity for the upcoming movie. Maybe he wanted John to do something that way. He'd already done what seemed like a million copies of various pictures of Simon to be given away and stuff. The ones of just his drawings of Simon wouldn't sell for as much as ones that had gone onto the illustrator, but for whatever reason they'd wanted both options available. Fine with John. He sort of liked having pictures out there of Simon without anyone but him touching the finished product.
"Well, we'll let you eat," Bonnie said. "Allen and I can get a cup of coffee ourselves."
"We'll be done in a little bit," Claire said. John was kind of proud of her for not inviting them to sit at their table. He knew it had to be tempting and she'd probably feel guilty about it later if she wasn't already.
"Thank you," he said, leaning toward her a bit to whisper that in her ear.
"I figured sitting in a car with them was enough for the day for both of us."
"I couldn't agree more."
"Are you sure Rich can wait until we get back?"
"Sweets, I'm positive. He would've left a message saying it was important if it was." He filled her in on the things going on now that the movie opening was approaching. "So, it's probably something like that. You know? I'm not worried about it."
"I just feel awful," she said. She'd taken a moment to order her breakfast and his in her fluent French. She knew by now what he liked to eat so hadn't even asked him. Silly maybe that he got the same thing every morning, but it tasted good so he didn't see the point in trying anything else.
"I could've called him when we got back to the room if I really wanted to. He's out in California so it was still early enough I could've."
He grazed her cheek with a kiss. "Relax. It's fine. I'm not stressing over it. I know him. He would've told me if there was a problem or something."
"Okay," she said.
"The message even said 'when you get a chance', right?"
"See. Trust me. If it was an emergency he wouldn't have said that. Almost ten years I've been working with and for him."
"And thank you for coming with today."
"Man, you're lucky I actually like you or there's no way in hell I'd go wine tasting with you."
She laughed softly at that.
"I wouldn't have cared if I wasn't giving them a ride."
"Oh, believe me, I know. Why do you think I went without thinking about it? If you were asking me you wanted me to go. You know me well enough to know I don't do wine tasting."
"Well, at least we'll get a tour."
"That does sound kind of interesting," he admitted.
It was the first thing they'd had to do with her friends really since the day they'd arrived. He was kind of surprised. The offers of meals were made, but if they had something else to do they weren't expected to make it. Everyone seemed to kind of leave them alone for the most part until today. John couldn't say he minded. He also realized if he wasn't along she wouldn't have had him as an excuse to not do those things with her friends. So she would've been around Allen a lot more than she had been with him along.
"You know," he said.
"This isn't at all how I pictured this trip going."
"What do you mean?"
He chuckled. "I don't know exactly. I had this thought in my head that I'd finally have you alone with the appropriate equipment necessary to be able to do what we wanted to do in that closet."
"Yeah, you know, a bed or at least a chair for one of us to be sitting in."
"Claire. I'm a guy. I'm attracted to you. Did you really think I wouldn't at least think about that happening?"
"You're attracted to me?"
"Fuck, Princess, what gives you the impression I'm not? I mean, I don't have to kiss you as much as I do. I don't have to hold your hand when we're out places no one but us is."
"What's to be surprised about that then? I don't think I've ever told you I wasn't attracted to you."
He supposed he hadn't ever flat out told her he was attracted to her either, but he kind of figured that was a given. He wouldn't be here if he didn't at least like her.
"No, I just assumed after I told you that…"
"That I wouldn't like you anymore? Are you shitting me?"
"No," she said.
"Well, it certainly put a different slant on what I imagined might happen while here."
"I should be insulted you thought I'd have sex with you."
"Spending a week together, sleeping in the same room? I think it's kind of a logical thought things could progress to that given who we are anyway."
"Yes, you. And me. Come on, you can't say you never thought about what it'd be like."
"Not even before that?"
"Maybe," she said.
"That's better than a no, I guess."
"You haven't even offered to sleep with me since that first night."
He'd debated about it the next night, but decided on going the safer route of sticking with his own bed.
"You haven't told me anything else that made me think I should."
"That's the only reason?"
"You asking me if I wanted to? I'll tell you honestly. Yes, of course I did. Who in their right mind would admit to preferring to sleep alone versus with you? I'm not a complete moron or an asshole, though. I'm not going to do that after what you told me."
"Is that why you agreed to come here with me?"
"Because you thought that we would."
"No, not really. I mean, maybe a little, but no."
"Why did you then? I've told you why I asked you."
He shrugged. "I don't know. I need a reason? I won't deny the thought of asking you out at the reunion entered my mind."
"You didn't, though."
"Because you didn't seem too interested in talking to me let alone going on a date with me."
"I was honestly trying to figure out why you even came."
"I made a bet with Louis Talbot. Remember him?"
"No. Should I?"
He chuckled softly. "He was one of like two black kids that went to Shermer."
"Oh!" He chuckled softly at her response. He knew Louis would stand out to her for that reason. He hadn't even lived in Shermer or gone to school with them until like eighth grade so he really stood out because he wasn't someone they'd grown up with.
"He bet me one hundred dollars that no one would remember me or know who I was."
"Come on. Really? You're surprised he thought no one would?"
"I don't know. I remembered you."
"And that's why I went. I knew you were sure to be there so the hundred bucks would be easy to collect. You barely seemed as though you wanted to talk to me, though."
"I'm sorry. I honestly didn't think you'd want to talk to me," she said.
"I don't know. Why would you? We kissed for a few hours ten years ago. Unlike me I'm sure that hasn't been your last experience with that."
"It was my last experience doing it with you," he said.
"John," she said cautiously.
"That was a compliment, Princess, not a line."
"So, back to your question. I was curious who your friends were that you had to make up a boyfriend for. And me, for Christ's sakes. I mean, surely there were other lawyers or something at your dad's firm you could have hit up to tag along with you. You know, someone with an impressive job instead of someone who draws cartoons for a living. I don't, that's what I know people like Allen think I do, though. I don't have a girlfriend or anything stopping me from doing it and I was, admittedly, curious just how grateful you'd be to me for not making you into a liar."
"You're not now?"
"Nope," he said.
She frowned a little as their waitress brought them their breakfast and he was left to wonder what he'd said that was wrong.
One good thing about basically not having seen one another for ten years they had plenty to talk about. John wasn't a big talker, but it gave the appearance to people observing them that they were constantly talking, that they were just that into one another that they didn't need anyone else around them. They had ten years' worth of facts to fill in for one another so they didn't lack for topics of conversation.
He hated the wine tasting. He didn't say a word, but she knew that he hated every minute of it. He was decently impressed by the tour and the property itself, but the tasting he didn't like.
He was more impressed with their drive. She'd done this once before with her parents, but never as a driver so it was new to her. He couldn't read French so she had to rely on her own map-reading skills. She thought he might like to see some villages away from the busy, populated, and much commercialized Paris.
They got back with just enough time to change and get to the church where the wedding was going to be near Rene's house. He'd once again left the room while she got ready. She didn't ask him to, but she couldn't deny she didn't appreciate it even if it bothered her a little at the same time.
She had absolutely no idea what came over her to tell him the things she had their first night here. She'd never, God, in nine years, she'd never told anyone. She wanted to blame it on being tired and the second drink they had in the bar before coming up here. She could even blame it on him telling her something very personal himself.
She knew, though, that she'd told him for a reason. Him of all people. She hadn't seen him for more than a few hours since that day of detention, and that included their graduation ceremony. She knew, though, that she could trust him. He hadn't walked around school the next week telling everyone he'd made out with her or done her. She listened very carefully for days for any inkling he'd done that.
Funny, too, since Andy had done it. Not to be mean, but he'd been questioned more than once what he was doing with Allison after that day and he wasn't afraid to let it be known he was getting something out of the deal of being involved with someone his friends thought he was insane for being seen with.
Ironic because she was pretty sure her mother would have told her she could trust someone like Andy and not someone like John. Yet John had been the one who'd kept her secret, hadn't said one word to tarnish or taint her reputation. Allison hadn't stopped seeing Andy because of it or anything, but Claire knew she hadn't been real happy about it at the time.
The rehearsal was pretty much the usual. Everyone went through the steps of how they'd get to where they'd stand and so on. It went on forever, though, because the wedding party was rather large. Claire suspected she'd be here for this wedding regardless, thinking of John's question about her coming here if April hadn't asked her. With eight bridesmaids and groomsmen Claire would've been kind of insulted to not be included in the wedding party.
The dinner was at Rene's parents' house again. This dinner party was much larger than the one Tuesday night had been. There were probably close to one hundred people here tonight between the wedding party and their guests.
"So April and Allen tell me you draw comics for a living," Rene said to John at dinner. It was the first time the two of them really talked. In fact, Claire hadn't spoken much to him either since they'd been here. He and April were constantly busy, she totally understood that so she didn't take it personally or anything. She knew once the wedding was over she'd have time to actually get to know her friend's husband.
"I do, yeah," John said after a moment's hesitation. She could almost guess what he was thinking was going to come next.
"Anything I know?"
"Uh, I don't know. Are you a reader?"
Allen snorted at that and Claire wondered what the joke was. John evidently did, too, because he glanced at her as if wondering if he was missing something. She settled her hand against his thigh and shrugged a little. She had no idea.
"My biggest name is Simon Forge," he said.
Rene set his wineglass down and stared at John for a minute.
"I don't blame you for not hearing about him. He's kind of smaller scale, but there's a movie coming out about him in a couple of months. I've heard it's supposed to be pretty good."
"I should hope so since I'm the one who directed and produced it."
"I'm sorry?" John said.
Rene chuckled a bit.
"You're Wren Savage?" John asked.
"Guilty," Rene replied.
"Wait," Allen said. "You know him?" he asked.
"Of course. You didn't tell me his last name was Bender. I would have known who he was right away. I'm a big fan of his work, have been for years. He's one of the better pencilers out there. I asked Rich about him almost immediately when we signed onto do the movie because he's clearly put a lot of emotion into Simon over the years. It was his drawings that made me want to give Simon Forge a life on the big screen."
"How could you not know who he was?" Allen asked John.
"I've never met him before this week," he said. Claire squeezed his thigh, sensing he could potentially say something bad here. Allen had just in a roundabout way insulted him. She didn't need John saying anything equally bad in response. He settled his hand over hers as if reassuring her he was all right. "Why would I think some guy named Rene marrying Claire's friend was the same guy as Wren who's responsible for a movie about a character I draw."
"You've never seen pictures?"
"I don't pay attention to movies to care about anyone's picture. I do know the actor portraying Simon, I made it my business to find out who was playing him."
"I hope you were happy with the casting choice. I understand, though, until you see it you'll question whether he was the right choice for your character."
"Well, I don't write the stories or anything. I just draw the pictures."
"And you draw them very well. I was very surprised when I was told your name and you were no one mainstream. I'd followed your work on and off, but I guess I sort of lost track. As my stack of comics to read gets larger and larger it's very easy to fall behind on who's who."
"Uh, thanks, I think."
"No offense meant," he said. "I assure you. It is a small world that you are here for my wedding."
Was that what Rich had called him for? Had he somehow found out that the wedding they were here for was the guy responsible for their movie? How could he have, though? Claire didn't think John had spoken to him since hours before leaving for the airport.
"You haven't seen any footage of the finished product yet?" Rene asked.
"Uh, no, I'm not really a big movie goer. I figured I'd see it. I mean, he's mine. I've ate, slept, and dreamt about him for nine years, but I guess I'm kind of afraid to, too. You know?"
"Certainly," Rene said. "You're afraid Steven won't do him justice."
"Kind of," John said.
"I don't blame you, but I assure you I think he does."
"That's good to hear."
Rene stood then, glancing at John.
"Follow me," he said.
John glanced at Claire who shrugged.
"Bring Claire, too, that's fine. Maybe she'd enjoy seeing what I'm about to show you."
They both stood and followed him after he excused himself from the party. April did not join them, Claire noticed.
"Holy shit," John said when Rene led them to a room full of things like props, costumes, set dressings, and stuff from his movies.
"You drew that," Claire whispered into his ear, noticing the poster of Simon Forge that was prominently on display.
"Uh, yeah," he said.
"That's amazing," she said.
"Thank you, Princess."
"Forgive Allen. I'm unsure of the reason for his behavior tonight other than I think he was under the impression Claire would be unaccompanied on this trip."
"I'm not sure why he'd think that. You think I'd let her spend a week in Paris by herself?"
"I don't, but evidently he did. He said something about her never having a boyfriend until now so wasn't sure he believed you truly existed. Especially given your occupation."
"I can imagine what he thought," John said. Rene glanced at both of them and Claire felt his scrutiny very closely, making her a little uncomfortable.
"He's told me stories about you," he said.
"Me?" Claire said, absolutely horrified at the idea.
"Yes. I assure you I've believed none of them and meeting you I can tell you that I believe them even less now. I think he likes April and Bonnie to believe he knows things about you they don't."
"I, uh, thank you, I think."
"So, Mr. Bender."
"Uh, John, really," he said.
"John. I'll trade you."
"Yes. You can have something from the Simon Forge set in exchange for your signature on my poster."
"It's already on there," he said.
"Oh, I know. I know how you sign your work." He walked up to the poster and brought it down from where it was hanging. It wasn't framed, but had been put onto a hard backing. He gestured to the JB that would look like wisps of hair to anyone else. Pointed out as they were Claire could see they were clearly a J and a B, but she would never have seen them as that unless told it was there.
"I'm impressed," John said, and he clearly was.
"I told you…"
"You dabble, I know," John said.
"I want your actual signature."
"Oh, I don't think… I mean, he's not mine. Not really. Rich…"
"Oh, Rich will sign it, too. You're here, at my wedding, it seems appropriate you're the first to sign it. I'll have all of your team's signatures on it by the time I'm done."
He released Claire's hand then and stepped toward Rene.
"A gift from Rich?" Rene asked.
"What?" John asked.
"Your watch. I hadn't noticed it before now."
"Oh, yeah, whenever you guys closed the deal he had it made for me."
"And you wonder why I think you're as responsible for Simon Forge as Rich is."
"Well, like I said, I just draw him. Rich tells the stories. Without the stories Simon would just be a picture on paper."
"And many would argue the same is true in reverse."
"I don't see it that way, but I'm sure you're right."
"What do you want in return?"
"Uh, nothing," John said.
"Come on," Rene said.
"I haven't drawn him for this long to get things out of the deal. I'm just glad other people will see him."
"I hope I've done what you have in mind for him justice."
"Thanks," he said.
"I suppose we should return to dinner before my mother comes in here and accuses me of being terribly rude."
"Why is this stuff here?" John asked.
"I'll be here until shortly before the movie opens I wanted it near me."
"Ah," he said.
"Besides. I feel safer with things here. My parents have security."
"The cameras that have been here all week?"
Rene shrugged. "A pitfall of being famous I guess, but they know better than to try to break into my mother's home."
"I suppose," John said.
"I'm really very sorry I didn't take the time to speak to you more in depth when you were here Tuesday evening."
"It's all right. I sort of avoid talking about what I do for a living around groups of people anyway."
"Most don't get it, do they?"
"Most react like Allen, wondering how you can make a living drawing cartoons."
"Yet, your girlfriend obviously gets it."
"Uh, yeah, she's great about it. She let me bring work here and everything not that I've had the chance to do much of it, but you know if I needed to she would understand."
"And, Claire, you're a lawyer, right?"
"I hope once the wedding is over and things with the movie have settled down you both will come join us at our house. April talks about you all of the time."
"Sure," Claire said. "That'd be fun. I always love seeing April."
"Great. I'll let you two settle the details then once we're back to normal. And if you change your mind about something from the set…"
"Thanks. I'm pretty sure I won't. I'm just not that kind of guy. It's not like my signature cost me anything."
"Well, the offer is a standing one."
"Thanks," he said.
Allen didn't look too happy when they got back into the dining room. Dining room was an understatement since everyone here was seated comfortably. The house was old enough this had probably been used as a ballroom or something once upon a time. Then, maybe Rene's parents still held balls here for all Claire knew.
"Princess," John said into her ear once they were back in their seats.
"I think you need to pay a little more attention to what your friends say about their future spouses next time."
"I didn't know! I swear I don't remember him making movies ever came up in our conversations."
"I mean, I think I would've remembered that being mentioned even if I wasn't sure we'd be sitting here tonight."
"You think that's why Rich was calling you?"
"I don't know now. I really don't. How could he possibly know this wedding is the one I'm here for?"
"I don't know."
"I mean what are the odds that your friend is marrying him?"
"I don't know! Obviously pretty good."
They got back to their room pretty late. John took the time to call Rich while Claire was in the bathroom getting ready for bed.
'Hey, John, how's Paris?'
"Oh you know. About what I expected."
'Say, you didn't mention you were there with someone.'
"I didn't? You think I came here alone?"
'Well, no, but I just wasn't expecting to see pictures of you and a woman…'
"Of us?" He thought on that. "The night we got here. We had dinner at his house. There were photographers outside. I assumed they were theirs. Taking pictures of people who were there."
"Well, they can't be that bad. I didn't do anything with her." He thought back to Tuesday night. He'd handed her out of the car, touched her some, and kissed her, but it certainly wasn't anything to have a fit about. He hadn't like put his hands under her skirt or anything.
'No, but I'm being asked who she is.'
"Why? Since when is my personal life any business of anyone's?"
'When she's the friend of the woman marrying Wren Savage it sort of becomes our business.'
"I didn't know!"
'Oh, I believe you. Just be careful please.'
"What do you think I'm going to do exactly? I'm not going to embarrass you or anything. I met him tonight. I mean, I'd met him before, but he found out who I am. He seems all right."
'Just don't get too drunk and dance with a lampshade over your head or anything.'
"I think you're safe from my doing anything like that."
'I think so, too, but it's not just my future pocketbook I'm thinking of. Yours could potentially get fatter from more movies, too.'
"I'm aware," he said. John was fully aware of what a successful Simon Forge movie could mean for him. In addition to the money it would also mean a lot more traveling because a successful movie would mean more attention. He wasn't sure that was worth the payout, but he couldn't say he'd complain.
'Who is she anyway?' Rich asked.
"What do you mean?"
'All these years I've known you…'
Claire chose then to come out of the bathroom. He watched as she set her things down, putting various things away for the night and whatever. She looked nice. Then she always did even waking up in the morning he was discovering. She was nice to watch do things, too. Even things as mundane as straightening her suitcase she made look graceful.
"What?" she asked. She'd caught him watching her evidently. "Is everything okay?"
"Yeah," he said.
'What kind of answer is 'yeah'?' Rich asked.
"I have to go."
'John. You didn't answer my question.'
"I promise I won't do anything to embarrass you or taint Simon Forge's good name."
'I was sort of hoping for an answer to my question. Who is she? Because I know you didn't meet someone who travels in Wren Savage's circle at a convention somewhere.'
"Some other time."
He hung up then.
"So he knows?"
"He knows and is apparently afraid I'm going to do something embarrassing."
"I doubt he thinks you really are, but you are in a roundabout way representing Rich and everything by being here."
"I know," he said. "Now I'm really glad I didn't put Allen in a hospital this week."
"What do you suppose he's said about me?"
"I haven't a clue, Princess, and I wouldn't worry about it if I was you. Douchebags like him don't deserve your time. I do think he kind of likes you," he said.
"Sick? Perverted? Yeah, I've thought the same thing mulling over Rene's words in my head, but it's the only explanation I can give for his reaction to you being involved with me. And the look on his face when Rene had heard of me."
"It's still sick."
"Guys like him you wonder if they even realize they've done something wrong. He may not see it that way and if you've never told him you remember he may not know you do."
"I know you do, sweetheart. You're fine. I'm not defending him. Trust me, we get back from here and I ever run across him I will not be accountable for my reaction."
"I prefer he not know. I don't want him to know that I know, you know."
"I get it," he said. He stood then to go to the bathroom. He'd let her go first since he had to call Rich and she took longer to get ready for bed than he did anyway. "You can turn out the light whenever you're ready to I'll find my way just fine."
"Okay," she said.
There'd been no messages for either of them tonight when they'd gotten back so he imagined that meant whatever issue had arisen with her client had been settled. He hoped so anyway. The last thing she needed going into tomorrow was a problem at work distracting her from doing whatever she needed to do as Maid of Honor. He'd paid basic attention at the rehearsal to know some of the things she needed to do, but he was sure there were things he missed because he tuned out after a while.
That was the benefit, or drawback, to having a creative mind. There were always things for him to think about when he was trapped in a situation like that he had no desire to be in. He went because it was the thing to do, but if he could've bypassed it without looking like an ass he would have.
The lights were out by the time he came out of the bathroom. He was a little surprised because she wasn't usually that quick getting into bed. He knew he hadn't taken that long either. He'd checked earlier in the day to make sure he had shaving cream and stuff. He didn't think she'd be too pleased if he forgot to do that tomorrow when there'd probably be a picture or two of him taken with her.
He was more than surprised to find her in his bed.
"Did you get lost, Princess?"
"No," she whispered.
"Okay," he said. "There something wrong with your bed?"
"No," she said again.
"Uh huh," he said cautiously.
"You said you wanted to…"
"I didn't mean it like that! Like right now, tonight."
"I don't know. Why?"
She shrugged. "You want me to go to my bed?"
"I'm not a moron. No, of course I don't. I just don't expect…"
"I'm not here for that."
"All right then," he said.
"It was nice," she said and he knew that was probably pretty tough for her to admit.
"It was," he agreed. He couldn't remember a time he'd ever just slept with a woman. His life just didn't offer him that many opportunities to do that. His own fault for living rather reclusively as he did.
She didn't say anything else.
"As long as you know what you're doing, Princess."
"I think I do."
"All right. You do have clothes on, right?"
"Good, because I'm not sure I could handle that."
"You not clothed? Yeah, not tonight," he said, finally getting into the bed.
She turned to face him then and he wondered what she was thinking. If she was even thinking anything.
"Rich doesn't really think you're going to do anything embarrassing, does he?"
"I don't think so. I mean, I think he knows me better than that. I guess a picture showed up of us."
"Us?" she asked.
"Yeah. From that first night here at their house. I assumed it was their photographers, but I guess it wasn't."
"Oh," she said. "How did anyone know you were a person to publish a photograph of?"
"I don't think they did. I'm going to assume since I haven't seen it it was probably a group of pictures of people getting out of their cars. We just happened to be one of the lucky couples included."
"I'm sorry," she said.
"I'm not. I didn't do anything wrong."
"I know, but you wouldn't be here if it wasn't for me and my stupid lie."
"Come on. I got to meet Wren Savage out of the deal."
She laughed softly at that.
"I'm not sure Rich will ever get to have dinner at his house, you know?"
"I suppose not."
"So what's to complain about that?"
"I guess, put like that nothing."
"Get some sleep, Claire. You're going to need it to walk around adjusting her train all day."
She laughed softly. "You think all of this is utterly ridiculous, don't you?"
He shrugged. He did in a way. "For the right woman it'd be worth going through."
"I hope you find her."
"I'm not, like, actively looking or anything."
"That shocks me."
"That I don't want to get married tomorrow?"
"Well, no, I guess that part doesn't, but that you're not seeing anyone."
"I tried for a while, but I got tired of being laughed at. The type of women that seemed cool with my job weren't the type I wanted to date let alone think about marrying."
"Oh," she said.
"Yeah, it's not one of those impress the parents jobs, you know?"
"I guess I can see that. What kind of women seem cool with your job?"
"Oh, you know, the kind that go to conventions and stuff, who actually know my work. That's all well and good, but I don't really want to go out with someone who thinks her brother's Simon Forge costume looks better than anything I've ever drawn."
"Oh," she said.
"Then there are the ones whose lives are those conventions. That's all they do, which is fine. I go to them, though, because Rich thinks it makes me look good. Gets my name out there. Our name and I guess our brand. I don't go because it's what my life is all about. I mean, I get paid for my time and everything, but I don't go because I love living the convention circuit. Some people, though, you go to their apartment and they have a closet dedicated to costumes. It's, well, kind of creepy. Cool for them if that's their thing, it just isn't mine."
"Or the ones who think I'll draw something just for them that they can turn around and sell."
"I guess that rules out asking you for a picture, huh?"
"Man, fly to Paris with you, pretend to be your boyfriend, which includes kissing, hand-holding, and now sleeping with you, and you want a picture out of the deal, too. You're a little pushy, aren't you?"
"I was really kidding. I wouldn't ask you to do that."
"Relax. I'm the one kidding." He chuckled softly. "I'd draw something for you. You I know aren't going to try to sell it for a hefty profit, especially with this movie coming out."
"Sure. What do you want?"
"Hmm. I don't know."
"Well, think on it."
"Would you color it in?"
"If you wanted me to. I mean, I've done illustrations. Clearly, Rich feels I'm better at penciling."
"Or he trusts you to pencil and get it right."
"Maybe that, too. I don't have anything like that on me, though, so it'd have to wait until we got back if you wanted that type of thing."
"Thank you for coming along today."
"Sure," he said. "It's not like I had anything else to do."
"I know, but you could've. You said you brought work along so you could've stayed here and gotten something done."
"Sure, I could've, but I wasn't going to do that not for a group thing like that. Now when it's just us Sunday and Monday and you want to go back to the Louvre I may sit that out." He was pretty sure most everyone was heading back to wherever they came from Sunday. Claire had extended her trip on purpose since it was a vacation for her.
She laughed softly. "That'd be fine."
"See, I knew you hadn't gotten enough of that place."
"You hated it that much?"
"No, I just have no need to go back again. I mean I guess it's the Louvre versus the Art Institute back home, but art is art."
"You could drop me off and take the car so you could do something else you'd rather do."
"Nah, there isn't anything really. I've seen the stuff you've shown me."
"Well, if you think of anything."
"I'll let you know."
"John?" she asked after a few minutes.
"This is okay?"
"What?" he asked confused.
"Me here like this."
"I haven't kicked you out so you're fine."
"Why haven't you?"
He scoffed softly. "We'll pretend you didn't ask that. Get some sleep, Claire. You're fine right where you are."
She lifted her head then and leaned in to kiss him. It was just on the cheek, but it was the first kiss she'd initiated since they'd been in the limo on their way to O'Hare.
"Sleep well, Princess," he said.
"You, too," she said, returning to her side of the bed then. It was a big enough bed space wasn't an issue anyway.
Story ©Susan Falk/APCKRFAN/PhantomRoses.com