***Chapter Fifteen***
Word Count: 4,606

"I can't believe you didn't tell me you were coming to town this weekend," Claire said to April. Had she been a sight for sore eyes. She was having an okay time and everything, but she was trying very hard to stay out of John's hair especially with Rich here. She didn't want him thinking Claire was going to prove to be a distraction to him or something. Claire thought for sure she was seeing things, except it made sense in a way for Rene to be here this weekend with the movie opening next weekend.

"I didn't know, Claire, I swear! Rene just told me he was taking me with him. I assumed it was more boring business."

Claire laughed softly. "Only you would find movie business boring, April."

"I swear since we got back from our honeymoon that's all he's been doing is working."

"Can you blame him?"

"He makes movies all of the time!"

"It sounds like he's hoping this one will kind of be more than one movie."

"I know. I bet John is, too."

"I'm not sure he cares."

"No? Really? Come on."

Claire shrugged. "Not really. I mean, he does from the standpoint that he likes Simon Forge and the other characters and is glad other people will get to see them. It's not like he's the one that stands to make money. Maybe the comics will become more popular and people will pick up previous issues or whatever they're called, but it's not like he'll have to pencil more of them. They've already been made."

"He's worried, though?"

"A little."

"Rene said that and he can't blame him. He almost didn't send John the invitation."

"Why did he?" Claire asked. She was glad April brought that up, because Claire wasn't sure she should. She was curious though why John got an invitation. She wasn't mad John got one and she didn't or anything. There was no reason she should have gotten one.

"Because you're my friend. He couldn't not. He just hopes John will have an open mind."

"John would never say anything even if he hated it."

"He would to you."

"Well, yes," Claire said.

"Would you tell me?"

"April!"

"Well, I think Rene is curious."

"Why wouldn't he just ask Rich or anyone else?"

"Because I think he knows John actually cares about the characters."

"Rich does, too."

"Not in the same way."

"I suppose," Claire said.

"So would you?"

"Is that why you're here?"

"No, I'm just curious."

"No, I wouldn't."

April sighed a bit. She had to know Claire would give that answer. She'd never say something like that to someone else if John told her his opinion privately.

"Is he going to get mad I took you away for a while?" she asked.

"Mad? No, why would he?" Claire thought John was probably more than a little ecstatic he didn't have to worry about Claire for today at all. She had no work with her this weekend so he was a little worried that she'd be bored out of her mind and never come with him again. That's what she thought he thought anyway. She wasn't bored. She wasn't sure she'd ever completely get it, but she supposed she was unusual in that there was nothing that really interested her to the degree it did the people who came here. She watched TV some, but usually she read. Her brother hadn't been into comics so she'd never been around anyone to have it rub off on her as an interest. She'd seen Star Trek and Star Wars, of course.

"I don't know," she said.

April's idea of taking Claire away for a while was for them to get their nails done and massages together. Claire wasn't going to complain about either thing and as John seemed to like when she polished her toes she doubted he'd complain much about the result of the afternoon. He'd been very fascinated the first time he'd seen her feet at his house and the polish she had on them. Why she had no idea, but she didn't mind.

"Why didn't you tell me about him?" April asked after a while of silence between them.

"I don't know. We were busy. You know? I just," she shrugged not that April could see her do it. "You were getting married, I wasn't. I wanted to hear what you had to say. My dating someone didn't seem nearly as newsworthy."

"You have a boyfriend, though, Claire, that's huge."

"It's not that huge. People have boyfriends every day, April."

"People may, you don't. So it is, too, huge. This is you we're talking about. He seems to really like you. And he's cute, too."

"Great," Claire said. "I'm not dating him because he's cute." Claire couldn't deny she found John more than cute. She had almost eleven years ago now, too, for that matter. There was a reason she'd chosen him as her faux boyfriend that started this whole thing. He was the only guy she'd ever been completely attracted to.

"No, I mean don't get me wrong. He seems very nice. Rene thinks he's very talented. I was very surprised how well he seemed to treat you in Paris."

"Why?"

"I don't know. I wasn't sure, you know. You've never dated anyone that I know of. Not seriously enough to bring to Paris for my wedding. I was worried. For you."

"He's good to me."

"He took Tux in while you were in the hospital last month?"

"He did."

"How did his dog feel about that?"

She laughed softly at that. "I can't speak for while I wasn't there, but while I was there Tux and I got the bed."

"Hmm. Did John get the bed, too?"

"Yes," Claire said, knowing she was blushing profusely. She was glad she could answer that question honestly, though. "Sammy got on the bed, too."

"He has a big enough bed for all of you?"

"Not as big as mine," Claire said. "It was fine, though."

"Have you all slept in your bed?"

"No, I mean, yes, but no, he won't let Sammy get on my bed."

"Why not?"

Claire shrugged. She wasn't sure. Something about it being her bed and not his place to let Sammy think he had the right to do that to anyone's bed. Claire had wondered the first time how many other beds he planned on Sammy being able to sleep on. She remembered, though, things like Jessica. Maybe Jessica didn't want Sammy on her bed.

"So, can I tell you a secret?"

"Yes," Claire said. "Why would you even need to ask me that after all of these years?" There was only one thing about Claire April didn't know, but that wasn't April's fault.

"Well, no one else can know yet. I mean, if you told John I guess that'd be all right and everything," she said, trailing off. "You have to tell him he absolutely cannot tell anyone else, though. No one he knows."

"What?" Claire was suddenly getting a very bad feeling. Was she going to tell her something about the movie? Had something happened with it that she thought John was going to tell other people?

"I'm pregnant," April said.

"Wait. What?" That wasn't at all what she was expecting! "Holy shit. And you waited until now to tell me this? And why is it a secret?"

"With the movie and everything next week, we're just waiting to tell anyone. Our parents know, and now you. That's it."

"Oh," Claire said, thinking that made some sense. "How exciting! You can't be that far along."

"Well, obviously, I wasn't when we got married. About ten or eleven weeks I think. You know I was on the pill for so long we weren't sure it'd be as easy. It didn't take long at all, though. I went off of it as soon as I could after the wedding. And here I am."

"Well, even if you were pregnant then…"

"No, he wouldn't have done that."

"He's older than us."

"He is," April said. He wasn't ages older than they were, but he was like thirty-five. It made Claire think of John's neighbor who took care of Sammy. The way age differences were looked at. For April to be married to someone six years older than they were was no big deal. John had seemed to think it would be a big deal for him to be interested in someone that much older than he was.

"Never married? No kids?"

"No," she said.

"He didn't want to wait to start then, I take it?"

"No, I didn't either. I'm not getting any younger!"

"You're twenty-nine!" That wasn't that old in Claire's opinion.

"I know, but I don't want to be an old mother or grandmother. I mean, we're not going to have just one. We'd like to be done with them as far as college and stuff before we're both sixty. You know? Or at least the youngest one in high school by then."

"I suppose," Claire said.

At the rate she was going she'd be a very old mother and grandma. April pregnant meant Claire would no longer know anyone who didn't have kids. She was twenty-nine. How did that even happen? She certainly didn't consider herself old.

"Are you feeling all right?"

"Yes. I have to watch what I eat in the mornings. I can't eat eggs at all anymore. Just the smell of them makes me throw up. I feel like I'm tired all of the time. Rene has told me I could quit my job, but that's ridiculous. Women work while they're pregnant all of the time. I'm not going to quit because I'm tired."

"Well, he obviously wants you to rest as much as you can," Claire said.

"I know. He's good like that. Overall, though, I'm great. You know? I don't really have any morning sickness, once I figured out the egg thing anyway. A little sensitive places I didn't used to be, which Rene isn't too happy about, but my mother assures me that's normal. The sensitivity I mean, I wouldn't tell her Rene minds."

"That's good," Claire said, a little cautiously.

It'd been a long time since Claire thought on these things, but she remembered being tired all of the time. She'd thought, at the time, it was because she was doing too much with the theater and studying. How wrong she'd been. What were the odds she'd get pregnant from one time? Slim to none. So she thought. She hadn't gotten to the point of being real uncomfortable because she'd gone to Minneapolis as soon as she was able to. She remembered the morning sickness, though, and the sore breasts. (She experienced that every month as it was so that was one reason it had taken her a while to process she had missed her period and was pregnant.)

"At least I haven't gotten to the point where I have to go to the bathroom all of the time."

"That starts soon, though?" Claire asked. She hadn't gotten to that point and there was no choice for her as far as having it or not so she'd never researched when things like that started occurring.

"I guess. We're all different, you know, so there's no steadfast rule. Mom says she was even different with each of us. My brother she couldn't eat full meals the entire pregnancy. She had to eat smaller portions more frequently. With me she had nothing, no morning sickness or anything. With Molly she had excruciating back pain the entire time she was pregnant."

"Oh right, I just," Claire shrugged again. She'd never really been close enough with any of her other friends to have them share details like this with her. She'd never heard her mom talk about being pregnant with her or her brother either.

"Anyway, there I told you my big secret. Now I don't have to worry I'm going to tell you accidentally on the red carpet or something. Rene was afraid I'd do just that if I didn't tell you. I've missed talking to you and he was afraid I wouldn't be able to contain myself after not seeing you for so long."

"It has been a while," Claire admitted.

April had moved out to LA about the time Claire had graduated law school and moved back in with her parents. April was the only one who hadn't thought Claire was absolutely insane for living with her parents again and saving up for the house she wanted instead of renting a crappy apartment or ending up buying a place she'd come to hate a couple of years later. They talked, but as with most people she supposed when there was a distance separating them when there didn't used to be their conversations got briefer and less… personal. Claire was the first person April had called to tell her Rene had proposed, after her mother, but Claire could admit today she hadn't been as good a friend about it as she maybe should've been. She honestly didn't think April would go through with this engagement either. They'd talked some while in Paris, but she was obviously busy getting ready for a huge wedding. She supposed the last time they'd really talked like this was back in October when April told her she hoped she'd bring John to the wedding.

"I'm so excited to have you stay with us next weekend. I can't wait. We can swim and do all sorts of stuff that I never get to do because I hardly know anyone."

"I was surprised you made the offer, honestly."

"Why? Claire? Why would you even say that? You can come visit us anytime you want to. God, I'd absolutely love for you to quit your job and move out there. I miss you! Trust me, there's a need for lawyers in LA just as badly as there is in Chicago."

"I miss you, too. I don't know why I was surprised. It's just you've got to have a ton of stuff going on."

"Claire. You're welcome anytime. It's mostly Rene's stuff anyway, you know. I go with him and do what I need to do as his girlfriend and now his wife. If you were there visiting me I'd certainly be allowed to do all sorts of stuff. My stuff. You know, lunch and shopping and showing you around. A trip to DisneyLand. A trip to Napa maybe? The winetasting was so fun, wasn't it? Wouldn't that be great?"

"Yes, but the invitation was sent to John not me."

"That was Rene's idea. He thought John would get a kick out of it and realize Rene really wanted him there not just because he's my best friend's boyfriend. It was our way of inviting you. I mean, as much as I'd love to invite anyone, we can't."

"Oh, I get it and I'm not mad or anything. Trust me. He almost didn't open it because he had no idea what Rene would be sending him."

"I can imagine," April said. "Allen doesn't like him much."

"Rene?" Claire asked, surprised. "He was in your wedding, I assumed they were friends."

"No," she said with a laugh. "John."

"Oh, I know. He called my mother in December and told on me as if I was fifteen breaking curfew."

"Are you serious?"

"Yes. So, he was basically forced into meeting them on Christmas Eve. We hadn't quite gotten to that point yet, but he did it."

"Oh God. How did that go?"

"Surprisingly well. My grandpa wasn't too thrilled with him once he found out we'd stayed in the same room together. Being in Paris together for a week was evidently okay, but sharing a room was not. Who knows? I suppose Grandma and Grandpa were never alone like that until they were married. Mom and Dad probably weren't either."

"What is his deal with you?"

"I have no idea."

"You never had a thing with him?"

"God, no," Claire said. "Are you kidding me?"

"Well, I don't know. I've been trying to figure out why he hates John so much because he has said absolutely nothing positive about John since he left. He seems to think somehow that John knew who Rene really was and that he's using you to get close to him. No one else we know has said one unkind thing about him. We all liked him, especially considering he was basically forced into meeting a whole group of us at one time."

"That's absurd. Wait. You've seen him?"

"No, but he calls, Rene listens and relays the conversations to me."

"He doesn't believe him?"

"Rene? About John, you mean? No, he seems to like him."

"Good."

"He wouldn't have gotten the invitation if he didn't."

"I suppose."

"He seems to know Allen talks out of his ass sometimes."

"Sometimes?"

"You don't like him much, do you?"

"No," Claire said.

"You never have. You were the only one really who didn't."

"No," Claire said.

"You've never told me why."

"I just always thought he was an asshole. He thinks he's God's gift or something. I wonder how he'd feel next to Rich, Simon's creator. Now, he's someone who could get away with thinking he's God's gift."

"He does think that, too. You're right. You're just the only one who's ever said it. I haven't met Rich. Is he cute?"

"Well, I think so. If Paul Newman look-alikes aren't your thing then you probably wouldn't think so."

"Really? That cute?"

"That cute. Even down to the eyes."

"Wow."

"That's what I said."

It would sure be a pity if what John said was true. Not that Claire cared, but the idea of someone that good looking not having kids was just bordering on criminal.

"Did you hear his club is closing?"

"No," Claire said, unable to stop a very excited feeling from overcoming her just then at the idea something Allen was involved with would fail. "What happened?"

"Selling liquor to underage college students is my understanding."

"Really? They shut down bars for that?"

"After repeated violations? Yes."

"Oh," Claire said.

"Bonnie told me that. I haven't told Rene yet. He's been preoccupied."

"Understandably. Are they really that good of friends?"

"No, not really. Allen sort of latched onto Rene and I think at first Rene kind of liked it. Someone who wanted to be his friend, you know? I don't know many guys so whenever we did things together he always felt like he was surrounded by a bunch of women. He typically was. Then Allen came out with Bonnie once and they got along. Out in LA, in Rene's line of work, no one really has friends. Not without worrying they're going to stab you in the back or pull the rug out from under you if it means they'll get a step ahead of you."

"And you want me to move there?"

"Well, I'm not like that and you're not like that. I always thought it'd be nice having you out there with me."

"Maybe," Claire said.

"I somehow suspect John might have something to say about that now, though."

"Maybe," Claire said. She sure hoped so, though she was trying not to get too excited when he mentioned a future between them. It'd always been in passing or kind of as a joke to this point so she wasn't sure how serious to take his comments.

"You told me about him once, you know?" April said.

"I did?"

"Yes. I don't know if you even remember. It was one of the first parties we'd ever gone to. You got kind of drunk."

Claire laughed softly. "I vaguely remember which party you're talking about." She'd met a guy at the party April was talking about who looked kind of like John but was not like John at all. She'd been severely disappointed that was the case. She didn't remember the conversation with April, but she could see herself talking to April about him that night.

"It took me a while, like a couple of weeks a while, to realize your boyfriend was the same guy you'd told me about liking our freshman year."

"I wasn't hung up on him or anything."

"Oh, I know. I just think it's kind of sweet, you know. You guys liked one another back then."

"We did. We were just… I don't know, wrong place and time. Does that make sense?"

"Well, obviously things happen for a reason and it's not the wrong place and time now. I think that's great. And sweet. Romantic. You deserve that."

"I do?"

"Yeah, you don't think so?"

"Well, of course I do, but why would you think I do over anyone else?"

"Because you're my best friend? I didn't realize I need a reason for thinking that. You're one of the good ones, you know? You liked me from day one. I wasn't so sure about you and I know you thought I was a little different. Bonnie," April grew quiet a minute. "They never understood why we liked doing the theater stuff."

"No, they didn't," Claire agreed.

"I remember when I first mentioned it. You thought I was a little crazy, too."

"I did. I mean, where I went to school, only really weird people did that sort of thing. You know, the geeks and nerds. I'd only ever talked to one before in my life before college."

April laughed softly.

"You went with me, though, that was more than anyone else was willing to do."

"I liked it," Claire admitted

"And now look at you, dating a great big nerd."

"He's not! He draws comics, that doesn't mean he's a nerd, April."

April laughed then. "However you want to justify it to yourself, Claire. Look at what you're doing with your downtime today. You're here with me getting your nails done and a massage. What does he do with his?"

"He…" Claire sighed, exasperated. "Walks around, looking at the other peoples work."

"And?"

"Talks to people who want to talk to him about his work."

"And you were saying?"

"Shut up," Claire said.

"You love me."

"Not right now I don't."

"Fine. I'll make sure you get the really crappy guest room next weekend."

"How many guest rooms do you have?"

"Too many," April said, but Claire knew her friend wasn't complaining.

"Are you excited?" Claire asked.

"Yes. Are you?"

"I am, a little nervous, though."

"Why?"

"I don't know. It's a huge thing, you know. I mean, I realize John doesn't stand to make millions but he could certainly be pretty comfortable if the movie does well and more come after this. What if I'm asked something I should know the answer to but I don't? I've read some issues in the past month, but there's ten years' worth of them. I can't catch up in a week. What if John hates it? You're my friend."

"I don't think he's going to hate it. I don't think John realizes how much of Rene's time he put into this movie. I almost thought our wedding was going to be delayed because there was a bit of a last minute snafu with some editing or something. I don't pretend to understand it all. He's a huge fan of the comics. He has them all, all of the issues and all of the variant covers. So I know what you're talking about when you say ten years' worth of storyline. He may love Simon and his friends as much as John and the others who've been working on him all of these years do."

"I'm glad to hear that."

"Rene has talked about if there are more about somehow having the guys who actually do the comics, guys like John, do some work for the next movie."

"How?"

"I'm not sure. Well, like the movie poster. John did that, right?"

"Yes."

"So there are things they could do. Pictures that could be included in the movie or as part of the movie. I don't know. I don't understand it. I'm so out of my league."

"It will be exciting, though. Are you? Excited I mean?"

"Yes! A little nervous, this is my first as his wife. It's a little different. This year I have a ring on my finger, you know? I'm Mrs. Wren Savage. I went to a premiere with him last year, but it wasn't anything like this. I mean, for whatever reason this movie has gotten huge amounts of attention. I think because Simon Forge and his world was kind of an unknown so people are curious why Rene would choose to make a movie revolving around those characters."

"John has said the same thing."

"He's right. A lot of people think Rene's making a huge mistake, like a career changing mistake."

"I hope not."

"He's pretty confident it's a career making move. I believe him."

"Did you really change your name to Savage?"

"No. It's Sauvageau."

"I'm very relieved to hear that," Claire said.

"Do you have a gown yet?"

"Yes! I've never had to buy one for something like that."

"It's hard to choose when it's for something like this, isn't it?"

"Yes! I'm not famous or anything, so just stuck with what I know looks good."

"Has John seen it?"

"He has. I wanted to make sure it was what he had in mind. I have no idea. I've seen some of the dresses women wear to those things. He wanted to see it because he wanted his tie to match the color of my dress."

"That's sweet."

"I guess. My prom date didn't do that."

"Do you still talk to him?"

"No."

"Well, maybe that's why and John knows better than to repeat that guy's mistake."

Claire laughed softly at that. "I'm sure it's the reason."

"So, what should we do after this?"

"I don't know. This has been so great. I didn't even realize how badly I needed a massage."

"I know, right? Rene has a friend who does prenatal massages. I plan on making good use of her as I get further along."

"Really? That's a thing?"

"Sure. Your back hurts and stuff. So I've heard anyway."

"I suppose," she said.

"We could go see what our guys are doing."

"Is Rene expecting you?"

"I don't think he's expecting to see me until I get back to our room tonight."

"Really?"

"He's busy. John's boss is here. So, he's making nice. You know."

"I know."

"He's not really John's boss, is he, though? I mean, he doesn't actually work for them, does he?"

"No, he's independent, but he thinks of Rich as his boss. He does most of his work for them."

"Rene did mention the four of us having dinner if we were agreeable and John has time."

"Oh, I don't know…"

"Well, let's go find him and ask him. Rene really does like him."

"He likes Allen, too."

"Not so much anymore. The club closing thing will probably make it even that much more now. Rene tries to stay away from wrongdoing. Scandal. You know? He likes to keep a clean image."

"Well, that's something."

April laughed softly. "He must see whatever you see."

"I doubt it," Claire said.

"Well, if John can't join us it'll just be the three of us."

"I don't want to intrude."

"Nonsense. This is your city, take us somewhere wonderful for dinner. Enjoy showing a Hollywood producer and director and his wife around town, Claire."

"Oh God. Sure, whatever."

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