***Chapter Fourteen***
Word Count: 2,994

March 1995

"Your dad is going to start thinking I'm a bad influence on you," he said.

"Why would you say that?" she asked.

"Well, I suppose he doesn't know about your trip down to see me last month, but you've missed a lot of work because of me."

"Being in the hospital was not because of you."

"I suppose not," he said. "You used it as an excuse though to miss an extra day and a half. That was after he'd let you go a day early to begin with."

"It was worth it."


"Yes! You don't believe me?"

"I'm glad. I thought so, too, but you know, I wasn't sure afterward if it was maybe too much for you."

"No. It was different, but some of them were really very nice."

He chuckled softly at that. "Some of them. They're people who just happen to have an interest in something that allows them to dress up sometimes. What kid didn't dream of being able to dress as Spiderman or Batman on Halloween?"

"You did?"

"Well, of course. No dreams of being Wonder Woman for you?"

"No, but it was still fun and not nearly as bad as I expected it to be."

"Obviously not you're here with me this weekend. I'm glad."

"Why are you staying at the hotel?"

"I don't usually. They offer, of course, because it saves on time and gas obviously. It makes me more accessible if I'm here from the time I wake up until I go to sleep. I usually say no. I feel like I eat and breathe these conventions when I go out of town for them, it's kind of nice not to have that when I'm close to home. I have you with me and it's a nice hotel so why not?"

"Jessica doesn't mind taking Sammy so much?" As it turned out, Jessica was really quite nice and absolutely no one Claire was jealous or worried about being interested in John. It wasn't the age difference either. She just clearly wasn't interested in John like that. She'd also been very nice to Claire the one time they met.

"No. Now if I had something next month right after this and next weekend she might say something."

"It's only one day of work that I'm missing."

"I know."

"I knew about it in advance."

"I know that, too."

"I'm still kind of getting used to this side of you."

He chuckled softly. "Me, too. Believe me. There are some days I wonder if I'm dreaming."

"But you're so good."

He shook his head a bit. "If only it wasn't my drawing you were talking about, Princess."

"Well, I think you're good at that, too."

"Now you're teasing me."

"I am not!"

He chuckled softly. "I know. I'm glad to hear that's true, by the way."

"You're not going to tell everyone today I'm your girlfriend, are you?"

"I don't know. Am I going to have a reason to this time?"

"I don't think so."

"You sure?" he asked, regarding her.


"All right. I mean, I can."

"No," she said quickly.

"You embarrassed or something?"

"No, it's just so weird people staring at me."

"The people who put it on know."

"They do?"

"Sure, people from cons talk. That's how you get asked to do other conventions. Or not asked in some cases. You know? I mean not entirely, but word of mouth can be good. And bad. I know one guy who got blackballed for a couple of years because he was a complete ass to someone at a smaller con. He thought he could get away with being a dick. He learned pretty quickly you can't do that."

"Huh," she said.

"So, yes, they know. They asked if you were going to be here. I told them you would for part of it at least."

"Is that all right?"

"Sure it is. I can do what I want with my down time."

"Well, good."

He stepped closer to her, grazing her hip with his fingertips to tug her against him. He leaned down to kiss her, finding her ear. He was getting much, much better about doing things like that without waiting for her to give him some sort of permission. It scared the hell out of her, but she was glad at the same time.

"I wasn't neglectful down in Dallas, was I?" he whispered.

"No, you weren't at all."

She blushed. He'd been the exact opposite of neglectful. He'd been busy, but she'd expected that and slept or worked while he was doing things. He'd come up to their room when she was working more than once just because she was there. He'd distracted her from her work more than once, too, but she had no complaints.

"I tried not to be. You were also recovering so I tried to keep that in mind and let you rest once in a while."

"I know."

"There you are," someone said from behind Claire.

"Were you expecting me to be somewhere else?" John asked.

"No, I just wasn't sure what your plan was."

"I'm all set up."

"I see that."

"I didn't know you were going to be here this weekend. I figured I wouldn't see you until next weekend," John said.

"I thought I'd come check things out."

"Uh huh," John said. Claire turned then and gasped a bit. She couldn't help it. He looked almost exactly like Paul Newman. If Paul Newman was still thirty years old anyway. The eyes. Holy shit. They were…

"Stop staring, Princess, you're starting to give me a complex," he whispered into her ear. He kissed her afterward, so he was evidently teasing her. Or just used to people staring at the guy.

"You must be Claire," he said, offering her his hand. She took it.

"Uh yeah," she said. "Sorry. I don't mean to be rude."

"It's all right. I'm used to it."

"Are you?"

"Related to him? I wish. No, just got lucky that someone's genes in my family that were passed onto me make me resemble him."

"I'd say."

He chuckled softly, regarding her pretty closely. She'd gotten used to that last month, though, people staring at her.

"So, you're Wren Savage's wife's best friend?"

"I am," she said, wondering why she suddenly felt … guilty about that.

"It's nice to meet you. I was beginning to think John was making you up."

"Why would he have been in Paris?"

"I hadn't come up with that part of it yet, but he sure has been good at hiding you."

"I'm right here."

"Clearly. I heard you were in Dallas, too."

"I was," she said.

"Is that why you're here?" John asked, sounding incredulous.

"Kind of."

"Why exactly?"

"I wanted to meet her."

"I assure you she's real and not out to disparage Simon's good brand reputation."

"I just wanted to meet her. We've been working together almost ten years now, right?"

"Pretty close to that, yeah," John said.

"You've never brought a woman with you to an event, even here close to home. I've certainly never seen pictures of you kissing one. Sue me for being curious who she is."

"You could have met her next weekend."

"And act as though I don't know what's going on in my own house. John," he said. "You know me better than that."

"I guess I do."

"She has red hair."

"You said you saw pictures of her."

"It was dark, hard to tell that."

"What of it?" John said, sounding defensive.

"Nothing. Just not what I pictured is all. Pretty, though. A lawyer you said? Who aced her bar exams so smart, too."

"You do know I'm right here, right?" Claire asked.

"I do," Rich said.

"He's just trying to figure out why you're wasting your time on a bum like me."

"I didn't say that."

"No, you don't have to."

"Actually, no. I was just thinking looks, brains, and the temperament that go with redheads you might be in for some fun."

"Her temperament is just fine."

Rich chuckled softly.

"Obviously you haven't gotten into a fight yet. Just wait."

"I don't plan on that happening."

"You never will either. I heard you had a bit of one in Dallas."

"It wasn't a big deal."


"Tiffani said some things she had no business saying to my girlfriend or anyone else claiming they knew me."

"She told me."

"She did?"

"She did. She refunded the money we paid to have Simon promoted so highly there."

"Really?" John asked, surprised. "I didn't ask her to do that. I just didn't want her saying crap about me that wasn't true."

"She felt pretty bad."

"She had every reason to. I mean, like I told Claire if that had been someone from Wren's company." Claire found it interesting that he called him Wren to Rich because any time they talked about him he was always Rene. She supposed it was logical because that was what Rich knew him as. Would he even know his real name? She supposed people had to know it. She'd never stopped to think about it, though. Clearly people showed up for the wedding, reporters and stuff, so they had to know they were one and the same person.

"I couldn't agree with you more and evidently Tiffani realized she put her foot in her mouth. This time it was your girlfriend, but the next time it might not be. She wants you back next year."

"We'll see."

"That's why she gave us our money back. She wanted you to know she really felt bad."

"You know, maybe for once I'd like to be the guy that doesn't have to do these things every month all year long. Maybe I'd like to spend time with my girlfriend without my schedule being thrown off kilter by trips here and there all of the time."

"We can talk about lessening your load, but you've been willing to let us kind of make you the face of Simon more or less."

"Yeah, I know."

"It's kind of late backing out of that now."

"I know that, too, but once the movie has opened. There's not going to be another one right away."

"We don't know that, John. You've heard the phrase strike while the iron's hot. And if Wren Savage likes you and your girlfriend I'd say that's a pretty hot iron. Combined with the movie doing as well as I've heard rumors it will do. I don't envision a much hotter iron."

"I suppose."

"We'll talk about it. You know I'm willing to listen. I'm going to go mingle a bit I see some people I should make my presence known to. I'll see you later. It was very nice to actually meet you, Claire."

"Thank you, you, too. John speaks very highly of you."

"Does he? Interesting because I tried to get him to tell me about you and he hardly said a word."

"You didn't ask the right questions," John remarked.

"I guess not. I look forward to getting to know you better this weekend, Claire."

"You, too," she said, regarding John.

"Don't get mad at me!" John said almost as soon as Rich was out of earshot.

"I'm not mad at you."

"Thank God. I don't need him stirring up trouble, too. I didn't tell him. Wait, I told you! I didn't know what to tell him and I didn't want to say something I shouldn't say either way. And then, well, I don't know I didn't want to jinx it, I guess. Eventually, let's see, a couple of weeks ago I gave him the rough basics."

"I know."

"You do?"

"I do. I remember what you said and I'm sorry that he's giving you shit because of what you did for me."

"Thank you."

"Worried about that red headed thing now?"

"I have to wonder what he knows I don't, yeah."

"Let's just hope you don't ever find out."

"Great," he said.

"Though I don't know."

"About what?" he asked, looking at her suspiciously.

"I've heard makeup sex can be fun."

He shook his head a little at that. "Who've you heard that from exactly?"

"All of my friends!"

"I see. Are they the ones who started the argument?"

"I don't know. They just said that…"

"What?" he asked when she stopped talking.


"Uh huh. You just realized you were about to violate some woman code, didn't you?"

"Sort of."

"All right. Well, we can pretend to fight if that'd make you feel like you're not missing out on that facet of a relationship?"

"No, that's okay."

"I'm just glad you're not freaking out because you think I don't talk about you or something."

"You proved in Dallas you're willing to talk about me. Would you really do less of these?"

"Yeah. I mean, I get why I'm the chosen one for the most part. I've told you before I'm single, no strings to keep me home except Sammy."

"You have something keeping you home now?"

"I'd like to be home as much as I can so that I can establish strings, yes."

"I see," she said. She hated how absolutely good that made her feel. Scared the absolute shit out of her, but it made her feel good.

"Well, it's hard for me to know if you're wife number one material if I'm gone a week out of every month and then making up for that week of being gone by being locked up in my office for a week to get my work done. And with summer coming up there's much better things I can think of doing with you than spending our time in places like this. Some of them even would let us bring Sammy and Tux along."


"Well, you know, if we went somewhere for a while together. Sure."

"And you want to do this?"

"Hmm, should I not have said that yet? Too soon? I don't know. I want the option available to me."

"I get it."

"Good. I'm glad. I mean I don't hate these things, but it does get kind of old when you've been doing it as long as I have. A break might be kind of nice."

"I know," she said. She hadn't been very fond of that couple of weeks before he'd left for Dallas. Not his fault. She'd been busy, too, but she'd missed him.


"So, this is the part where I go walk around, right?"

"Do whatever you want. Sit in on lectures or whatever. Just try not to have any one autograph body parts."

"I'll save that for you later."


"Mm hmm. I even brought a special pen for you to use."

"Did you now?"

"Uh huh."

"Is it stashed anywhere fun?"

She smiled a little at that, shaking her head a bit. "Fun for who?"

"Uh me?"

"Maybe. That's up to what I let you do with it I guess. Probably yes."

"Hmm, all right," he said.

"I'll see you later."

"You are coming to hear me, right?"

"You're not going to introduce me as your girlfriend to a couple of hundred people again are you?"

"You asked me that and I said probably not, but I don't know. I kind of liked doing that."

"Why?" she asked, regarding him curiously.

"I saw a look on some of their faces I hadn't seen before. They saw me as a person. Until then I'd just been John Bender the comic penciler who is at all of these conventions because he clearly has no life and who draws Simon Forge. They probably thought I literally had no life. I suppose it helps that the woman I claimed was my girlfriend is very incredibly nice looking."

"Comic pencilers don't get nice looking girlfriends?"

"I think the stereotype would say no. You know, nerds don't get the hot chicks. I mean, look at Brian. I didn't talk to his wife or anything but she's exactly what I envisioned for ol' Brian to settle down with. Not you."

"Glad we could break that stereotype then."

"Me, too, babe, me, too." He leaned in and kissed her then. "And if you see Fred, you make sure you tell him that I said you're still all mine."

"I don't know. He was kind of cute…"

"Don't even. It's bad enough you stared at my boss!"


"Yeah, I know. Trust me, you wouldn't say anything I haven't heard a million times before."

"Is he married?"




"Why not?"

"I think he likes looking like Paul Newman," John said with a soft chuckle.

"Oh," she said.

He leaned in to kiss her ear, lingering a bit. "I am also fairly positive he doesn't like women," he whispered.

"Oh," she said. "Why'd you tell me that?"

He shrugged. "Because I thought it might entertain you to have that bit of knowledge stored away in your head while you watch him this weekend."

"You mean people don't know?"


"How do you know?"

"Some other time, Claire."

"All right," she said.

"I'll see you later then. Do you need me to hold your wallet or anything?"

"No, why?"

He chuckled softly. "Nothing. I was teasing. Go have fun."

She knew he hoped she'd have fun. Dallas was fun the things she'd done. A little weird and uncomfortable, but still fun. She hadn't been feeling great either. She still wasn't feeling great. Her doctor had told her it would take a while, but she hadn't imagined it'd take a month. He was hoping this one would be more fun so she'd be tempted to go with him to the next one. She didn't bother telling him she'd go to the next one fun time or not. There was always something she could find to do in a new town if she didn't want to hang out at the convention.

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