It'd been over ten years since he'd been with someone every day, pretty much all day for any length of time. Conventions didn't count because he had the ability of hiding in his room when he wanted to a lot of the time. Few of those lasted a full week anyway. So, the last time had been when he'd lived at home with his parents. He certainly didn't see them every day, all day. So, he supposed it was a hell of a lot longer than ten years now that he really took the time to think about it. Twenty years maybe? When he was a little kid and had no choice but to spend all day with his parents during spring or Christmas breaks?
Walking and playing with Sammy just wasn't the same either he found.
Rich's phone calls, which John was still avoiding to this point, weren't helping either. He had no idea what to tell the guy. Did he continue with the lie that she was his girlfriend? If he did that, word would get around. Not a bad thing all in all, but he wasn't sure he wanted it out there he had a girlfriend. He wanted a girlfriend. Her. He just didn't want word to get around he had one and then a month or two months from now word get around he lost the first girlfriend anyone knew of him having in such a short period of time.
If he didn't do that, though, claim she was his girlfriend. Well, word was bound to get back to Rene and others that he wasn't. Even if she claimed they broke up he found it pretty farfetched anyone would break up right after a week in Paris together.
Then he had little experience with dating and breaking up to know what people did normally.
It had sounded so easy, going along with her idea. How difficult could it be to go to Paris for a week and pretend to be the boyfriend of someone he legitimately liked? Of course as with most things in John's life that were supposed to be easy they blew up in his face. Now he was stuck because that lie was now bleeding into his life and career. He just wasn't sure what to do with it. He didn't want to piss her off by saying the wrong thing. She seemed very concerned with her image, understandable to a point. If he told Rich and others she was his girlfriend they'd assume, rightfully so logically, that they were having probably lots and lots of sex to warrant him flying to Paris with her for a week.
He'd been off since he got back. He'd drawn, but nothing he was happy with. He wasn't blaming her exactly, but he knew when he was distracted. Currently he was. His own fault. He'd agreed to her deal. It was the most ridiculous thing he'd heard of, him not wanting to date her because of something that happened to her years ago.
They'd had a nice time, he thought so anyway. Their two days without anyone else around were probably his favorites. They'd gone to Morrison's grave a second time, spending more time there. She'd taken a picture of him and one day he might actually draw a picture off of it. Maybe. They'd walked around a bit, spotted other famous gravesites. Some John hadn't ever heard of; French composers and stuff, but it was still kind of fascinating. Some of them went back to the time of Napoleon. Even John could appreciate that.
They'd found Moliere's grave the second trip, more of a joke than either of them having a real desire to find it.
The limo had dropped him off at his place first. He'd called Jessica, his neighbor who was dog sitting for him, from O'Hare once they'd gotten their bags so she'd know he was on his way back. She and Sammy had been waiting outside the building for him so that had sort of cut short any sort of goodbye he may have had in mind for her. Like inviting her in and offering to drive her home later.
He'd thought of picking up the phone a few times, but he'd never actually done it. Why? Too chicken? Partly. He had no idea what to say to her. There was nothing he could say to convince her he really liked her, damaged or not. He certainly didn't see her that way, but he knew she did.
She'd told him the night of the wedding when they were lying in bed talking about all sorts of stuff that what she'd done afterward affected her more than the rest of it because she didn't remember what happened with Allen specifically. She seemed to think she'd never have a chance to have a kid again. He found that incredibly hard to believe. His being involved in the process or not he knew plenty of someone's would be interested. He had eyes at the wedding to see that Allen wasn't the only one who paid her some attention.
Fact was, though, she was twenty-eight, closing in on twenty-nine, and April was one of only a few of her friends without kids. With marriage now out of the way for April, the kids would probably come sooner rather than later. So, she was apparently feeling some sort of pressure there John couldn't relate to. He supposed men wouldn't be able to relate to it anyway because there was no time clock limiting their ability to make kids.
Sammy whimpered a bit when John left the condo without him along. Usually, leaving meant a walk was in store. He didn't have that on his mind this morning, though. Sammy should've known better, too, knowing how John dressed to actually leave and just take him for a walk.
Then perhaps that was exceeding the dog's knowledge, John wasn't sure.
He made his way downtown and found the building her offices were housed in. Well, her dad's offices. Her name was on the door, too, though. He'd feel pretty stupid if he drove all the way down here to have her tell him to get the fuck out. He just didn't think picking up the phone and asking her to join him for lunch would be met with a 'yes'.
A receptionist. Of course they'd have one of those. He supposed that went without saying. He'd only been in one law office before in his life and that had been with Rich years ago to sign contracts. He couldn't remember dealing with receptionists, but John had been nineteen and pretty awestruck at the time.
"Hi Sonia. There's a Mr. Bender here to see Miss Standish," the woman said into the phone. He frowned slightly at her use of the word Mister. He hated when people called him Mr. Bender. She was probably around their age. Maybe a little younger. Pretty. Dressed nicely. She was eyeing John with curiosity, though.
"Yes, he's here," she said after a moment of silence on her part.
"All right," she said, hanging up the phone.
"Sonia will be right up."
"All right," he said, stepping away from the desk then. He had no idea how much time 'right up' was to a law office. He wasn't sure if he was supposed to take a seat on one of the chairs or just stand there. He chose to stand for the moment.
"Yeah?" he said, turning in the direction of the voice.
"Hi, I'm Sonia," she said, offering him her hand. He took it, shaking it politely. "It's very nice to meet you."
"Sure, you, too. Thanks for taking the one or two messages that came in for me. I appreciated having that ability."
"It was no trouble, really," she said. "Come on back. Claire was on the phone, but it sounded as if she was about to finish up so I figured I'd come up and get you."
"All right, thanks," he said, not at all sure what Claire's reaction was going to be to seeing him.
"Did you have a nice time?"
"Oh, yeah, it was great. I could do without another huge wedding out of the country for a while."
She stopped at a desk, hers he presumed as she glanced at the phone on it. "She's off the phone," she said, moving to the door near the desk.
"Claire," she said.
"John, um, hi," Claire said. She didn't look mad he was there, but she didn't look ecstatic either.
"Hi," he said.
"What are you doing here?"
"Well, I thought I'd see if you wanted to have lunch with me."
"It's too early for lunch," she said.
"Claire," Sonia said with a soft laugh. "It's eleven thirty."
"No it's not," she said, glancing at what John presumed was a clock on her desk. "Oh my God, it is. I'm sorry, I've been on the phone all morning I didn't even pay attention to the time."
Sonia left then, leaving John to wonder what her secretary knew about him. Them. Their situation. Whatever.
"So is that a yes or no to lunch?"
"Well, grab your coat and come on then."
She was dressed way different than she did while they were in Paris. A suit with her hair fastened back where she'd worn it down while they were away together. He liked it down. He liked it a lot down. She'd had to wear it up for the wedding, too, and he'd been very glad when he'd been able to take her hair down for her. Glad because he enjoyed touching her and because, in his opinion as someone who was usually on the observing end of couples, doing something like taking a woman's hair down implied intimacy. He wasn't sure why, but he certainly wouldn't think a man taking a woman's hair down was merely her friend.
She was wearing heels, but they weren't nearly as nice of a pair of shoes as the ones she wore for the wedding had been. Not that he was an expert on shoes beyond knowing what he liked to look at. Then, the dress at the wedding had been long so he hadn't been able to see her legs as he could today so he supposed there was a benefit to both.
"How much time do you have?"
"I can take an hour."
"You're sure? If you're in the middle of something we can make it quick."
"No, it's fine."
"All right," he said, leading her to his truck then. He opened her door for her, offering his hand to help her in since it was a little slick outside and he wasn't sure how used to getting in and out of trucks she was.
"You surprised me," she said once they were sitting down and had ordered their lunch.
"Well, I figured there was less chance of you saying no if I showed up than if I just called and asked."
"I'm not sure I would've said no," she said.
"No, but you would've been tempted to say no."
"Probably," she said with a sigh. "How are you?"
He shrugged. "I'm fine. You know. I'm always fine, though, right?"
"It's fine. You?"
So they were both fine. That was excellent.
"Yeah. Missing a week when there's no other lawyer in my dad's office who feels comfortable handling my work set me back a little."
"Oh," he said not having thought of that. "But you said if you had to go to court for, like, your brother or something you could do that."
"Well, sure I could. First of all, I know all of the cases we're involved with whether I'm part of their defense team or not. So, I'm familiar with the files. I certainly wouldn't go as their lawyer, but merely to get through the day or to get a continuation. I hope I never have to do that, but I could."
"I see. No one can do what you do, though?"
"Could they? Probably. Would they? No. They're not comfortable doing it. Companies could lose a lot of money if I do something wrong. We don't typically go to trial. I do lots and lots of paperwork, combing through contracts and documents, changes in laws. It's lots and lots of paperwork. Lots and lots of research."
"Well, sure, that makes sense. You're the lawyer for companies and stuff, right?" he asked. He thought that was how it worked. She would be the one called if someone who worked for a company got injured and sued their boss or something. That's how he interpreted it. What he knew or understood could be wrong or incomplete.
"That's right. I mean it's fine. I knew that leaving. I took a week off in June and the same thing happened."
"Where'd you go in June?"
"I went to Las Vegas with some friends."
"Was April one of them?"
"No, she wasn't with on that trip."
"I see," he said. "Bonnie?"
"She wasn't either. Different friends."
"Ah," he said. "High school friends?"
"Some of them were, yes. They were all Chicago friends."
"What about you?"
"What about me?"
"You go on trips."
"Yes. Not for fun, though. I mean, you know, they're all work related."
"Any coming up?"
"Dallas in February. Here in Chicago in March."
"Oh," she said. "Dallas should be nice in February."
"You don't like it much?"
"I do. It just gets old after a while. I've been doing them for so long now. I'm apparently a good guest, though, because they keep having me come back. Rich prefers sending me if he can."
"Because I'm single I guess. I don't mind talking about Simon or other characters I draw and I guess I come across as a reachable, down to earth kind of guy. I think it's the single aspect of things that sways him, though. Other than Sammy I have nothing to be accountable for so no one to get mad at me for being gone."
"Or for getting drunk all weekend."
"I haven't done that in a very long time, but yes. I mean, he has others go, too, but I seem to bear the brunt of it."
"What would he do if you were married?"
"I don't know. I guess split it up more reasonably. I don't argue with him or anything. I get paid to go to them and everything. I get to sell drawings and stuff, too. So it's not like I make nothing on the deal."
"I get it."
"Why? Are we getting married?"
"What?" she said, looking absolutely panicked.
"Relax. I'm teasing you. You know, your friends might think the next step after our being at such a fancy wedding would be to get married ourselves. You did catch the bouquet. Isn't that what that means? You're the next to get married."
"Oh, well, maybe they would. Yes, that's what that means. I haven't ever said I want to get married, though."
"Really?" That surprised him. He just assumed women like her had their wedding all planned out and plotted down to the most intimate details, just insert the name of the groom when the time came.
"No," she said.
"So, why was it such a big deal we were dating then?"
"Because I've never done that either? I mean, not to tell anyone about someone."
"It was a pretty nice wedding."
"Pretty nice? I'd like to see what you'd consider real nice if that was only pretty nice. I can honestly say I've never been anywhere where there were so many familiar faces."
"There were a lot of famous people there, weren't there?"
"Uh yeah," he said.
"I wasn't really paying much attention."
"How could you not? One of them was in the wedding party."
"I didn't walk down the aisle with him," she said.
"No, I guess you didn't," he said.
He noticed, but he had to admit even though there were famous women there he'd seen in various movies and stuff over the years Claire was the only woman who interested him. Oh sure, they were beautiful and dressed crazily impressive. It hadn't mattered, though. He had a type it seemed. She was it.
Not to mention he was pretty sure even if one of them had been his type he wouldn't have stood a chance anyway. Not that he'd been interested. He had absolutely no desire to be in April's shoes by being on the arm of someone who garnered public attention in any way, shape, or form.
"Why did you really come down here?" she asked when they were both about finished eating. The conversation hadn't been bad. A bit stilted with bits of silence, but nothing out of control.
"What?" he asked.
"You didn't just come down here to take me to lunch."
"Honest, that's all I wanted. I haven't heard from you since we got back. I figured if I called I risked you telling Sonia to take a message."
"I wouldn't have…"
"Yeah, you would've if you didn't want to talk to me."
"I suppose maybe."
"I had nothing else to do for lunch today. I don't know. I meant what I said that night. I'm not just going to walk away from you."
"I know what you said…"
"Well, I figured lunch was a good place to start."
She smiled a little at that.
"I like when you smile."
"I don't know. You look so serious all of the time. When you smile," he shrugged. "You're pretty all of the time, but when you smile I honestly can't remember seeing anyone prettier."
"Thank you," she said.
"You're welcome. It's the truth."
"I suppose Sammy was glad to have you back."
Compliments were bad? Or just made her uncomfortable. He wasn't sure which. He didn't think he'd said anything wrong.
"Yes, he hasn't let me out of his sight for very long. I'm not usually gone for a week at a time so he was a little lost."
"It's not your fault. How's your cat?"
"He's okay. He was mad at me until a couple of days ago, but that's typical."
He chuckled. "Isn't it funny how different they are?"
"I guess it is. Cats aren't owned by us, though, they own us."
"I've heard that's how it works, yeah. I like Sammy. You know, someone loves me even if it's a dog and only because I'm the one who feeds and walks him."
"He looked beautiful. How old is he?"
"Two," he said. "Listen. I'm sorry if them being outside waiting for me like that was a problem."
"No, why would it be?"
"I don't know. I don't want you to think Jessica is anything she's not. She's my neighbor nothing more."
"She is, I suppose," he'd truthfully never paid her any attention like that. Even if he had found her attractive when he first bought the place and moved in. He knew getting involved beyond friends with someone who lived in the same building as him could be bad. "She's a little old for me, though."
"Old for you?"
"Uh, yeah, she's like thirty-five."
"That's too old?"
"Well, you know, just isn't my thing, I guess."
"Hmm," she said.
"Did I just say something wrong?"
"No," she said. "Just funny how that works. I bet if you met someone who was twenty-one you wouldn't expect her to say you were too old."
"Well, no, I don't know, older women just aren't my thing. I didn't say younger ones were either, though. Don't put words in my mouth."
"I'm just making sure. You were the one who brought up a twenty-one year old. I'm just fine with someone my own age."
She shook her head a little at that.
"Let's get you back to work before I say something you do get mad at me for."
"I'm not mad at you."
"I know, but I feel as if you're testing me or something. She's nice and all, but she's never shown any interest in me or anything. She seems more interested in Sammy truthfully. She runs during the summer and took him with her a couple of times last summer."
"Oh," she said. "I bet he loved that."
"He did actually. I'm not much of a runner. I walk with him, you know, obviously. He's a dog, you have to walk them."
"Before I forget," he said once they were back in his truck. "This is for you," he said, reaching for his briefcase to pull out the picture he'd drawn for her.
"John," she said.
"You said you wanted a picture."
"I was kidding!"
"Who is she?"
"I don't know," he said. "Who do I see her as? I see her as Simon's … Mate for lack of a better word. He wouldn't have a girlfriend. The world he lives in doesn't talk like that."
"He doesn't have one yet?"
"Nope. He's just a kid still really."
"When he gets to that point I have no idea if she'll look like that, so don't hang onto it hoping to sell it five years from now as the first picture of her or anything."
"I wouldn't do that anyway. She's beautiful."
"Thank you," he said.
"And you colored it, too."
"A little. I kind of went for a less is more thing. You know?"
"It's beautiful. Thank you," she said, leaning in to kiss him.
"Not so fast," he said when she started to draw away. "We got pretty good at doing that in Paris. Let's see how we do at it in Chicago."
He slid a hand to her cheek, touching her there before sliding it lower to her neck.
"Hey," he whispered, drawing away at the feel of her pulse racing under his fingertips. "What's wrong, Princess?"
"Nothing," she whispered.
"Why are you nervous then?"
"You make me nervous."
"I do? Here in my truck? Kissing you?"
"Yes," she said softly.
"Why? I haven't felt your heart going this fast since that first night in Paris."
"I know," she said.
"If I'm doing something to remind you of him or what he did to you…"
"Okay, good. I mean, I'm sorry I make you nervous."
"It's my fault."
He kissed her again. "Come out with me this weekend," he said.
"You pick. Dinner. A movie. Whatever you want to do. Name it. Preferably just us and not a crowd of hundreds of people who are watching us."
"I don't think they were all watching us."
"No, but your friends were doing enough watching for the rest of them."
"I've never had a boyfriend before."
"You could've. I mean at least once you could've for sure since I was him."
"I know," she said. "I've thought of that, too."
"If I'd been brave enough to talk to you, tell you how I felt I wouldn't have been interested in him at that party."
"It doesn't mean he wouldn't have done that anyway. Clearly he likes you. Or is infatuated with you. Something. I don't know what it is, but I look forward to seeing him again sometime."
"When would you possibly?"
"Your next friend's wedding."
She laughed softly at that. "No one's getting married anytime soon."
"That's too bad because I really would like to see the look on his face when I show up with you again."
"Yes," she whispered. John thought she meant it, too. He hoped so anyway. Not that he wanted any of her friends to get married anytime soon. He wouldn't mind being her boyfriend for the next one for real, though.
"All right, Princess, I'll get you back to work now."
"Thank you for lunch."
"Sure. Thanks for coming."
"You really have no preference for the weekend?"
"Nope. Whatever you want," he said as he parked his truck and shut it off to help her out. He wasn't sure she'd want him to walk with her to the building or not.
"Okay," she said, taking his offered hand.
He liked that about her, that she didn't actually mind him doing these things for her. He'd gone out with a few women who seemed to think he was weird to want to open a door for them. As if they could do it themselves so why should they let him? He called it being polite. His mom hadn't set many good examples for him, but she'd told him things when he was little he remembered. Even if she put up with things that contradicted what she told him. He still remembered them. He watched enough, too, to know how different types of guys were treated or responded to. He wanted Claire to respond to him as he'd seen the polite ones get responded to over the years.
"You're going to come get me?" she asked.
"Uh, yeah," he said. "You think I'd make you drive yourself to a date?"
"I'll pick you up."
"Okay. Friday? I can't do Saturday, it's Christmas Eve. Mass and dinner with the parents."
"Sure," he said, having completely forgot it was Christmas coming up over the weekend. "At least I can finally call Rich back now."
"Why?" she asked.
"Well, he asked me when we talked that once in Paris who you were. I wasn't sure what to tell him, you know. I wasn't expecting my life to be affected by the wedding you asked me to go with you to."
"I have avoided calling him since being back. I have nothing with him due and I've just felt kind of caught. If I said you were my girlfriend that'd get around. If I said you weren't that'd get around. I really don't care if people think I have a girlfriend. However, I really don't want to lie to people I work with about whether I actually have one."
"And now you can talk to him?"
"Well, at least I can legitimately answer that I'm dating you."
"It's one date!"
"That's dating, Princess. Last I checked."
"I suppose," she said. "I'm sorry. I really am. I had no way of knowing. Even if I had known he was a director or whatever I wouldn't have known about your movie."
"I know. I just didn't want to tell the truth and have it get back to people who know you either. You know? So I've just sort of avoided him. Email is a wonderful thing when you don't want to talk to someone."
"I can't even imagine what he thinks."
"I honestly can't either. I didn't do anything wrong or bad. It's not like a picture of you with a hickey on your neck came out. Since that's the worst I did…"
"It was still there when I went to work on Wednesday morning," she said.
"Was it?" He hadn't meant to make it that bad when he'd given it to her. "You covered it up I imagine."
He chuckled softly at that. "I'm sorry."
"I'm not complaining exactly I just wasn't expecting it to be there for days."
"I wasn't either honestly, guess I got carried away thinking about your birthmark."
"What can I say? Maybe birthmarks excite me, Princess."
"They do not."
"Yours do. Knowing I know about it and no one else does anyway."
"Oh," she said.
"I'll let you get back to work now, Princess."
"Thank you for lunch."
"Yeah, sure, anytime," he said. "I told you it was a boyfriend-like thing to do since I have free time."
She started walking away then, turning a few steps away and totally catching him watching her. She didn't seem mad, though. In fact, she walked up to him again and kissed him.
"Thank you for the picture, too. It's really gorgeous."
"It's not. You made it for me. That's special. Thank you."
"You're welcome. See you Friday. Call me or email me I suppose with a time otherwise I'll assume around seven."
"Seven sounds fine."
"All right then."
He watched her walk the rest of the way to her building then. She glanced at him before opening the doors to go inside so she knew he'd watched her.
Story ©Susan Falk/APCKRFAN/PhantomRoses.com