***Chapter Seventeen***
Word Count: 7,159

"Well, at least we know whenever his parents get too old to live in that house of theirs he can afford the upkeep on it," John said once they'd been shown to their room for the weekend. He'd seen pictures of homes like this. Huge houses set back acres and acres away from the main road. Passersby would slow past the gated driveway, hoping for a glimpse of activity on the other side. To say Claire's best friend was doing very well with her life was an understatement. (John got the impression April did acceptable on her own professionally, but she wasn't anywhere near Rene's league as far as income bracket. She was working in the field before meeting Rene, just not steadily or lucratively was the impression he'd gotten.)

John couldn't help but wonder what the fuck Claire was doing with him when she had friends who'd married into this. Claire did well for herself, certainly better than John would ever do. He wasn't stupid enough to think he'd ever earn more than she did. He did fine and everything, but he knew he wasn't going to be able to compete with Claire even if she wasn't working for her father. He didn't know what her other friends had married into, but he doubted any of her friends had married bums who couldn't support their wives.

"Well, she did tell me they had plenty of guest rooms," she said.

He snorted softly at that. They had plenty of everything, including a beach right outside their house. John couldn't deny he'd find that a definite perk to living somewhere like this. It'd probably be a bit of a distraction, though, always tempting to go outside and watch the water for a while when he had work to do. Then maybe people who had houses like this took it for granted and didn't notice the huge body of water out their front door.

"What were you expecting?" she asked.

"I don't know. It's just so weird. I mean, forget that I'm here. I'm here because of you, don't get me wrong it's a hugely cool opportunity. One I almost called my old man to tell him about what I was doing this weekend. The only thing that stopped me was I knew he'd never believe me. It sure was tempting, though. You know, a little salt in the wounds that he's still living his version of a dream life and that ‘drawing nonsense' he thought was meaningless is paying off. I know without you I'd be at home right now doing something with Sammy. You could come here anytime you want to and spend the weekend. You don't think that's just a little bizarre?"

"Not really. Am I supposed to? She's still my friend. She just has a nicer house than the apartment she lived in with Tasha until they got married."

"I don't know. Maybe you don't, but I think most people would. I mean your parents do well, but not quite this well. Then maybe for you it's no big deal because you assume your friends will achieve this type of success. I never had that with the friends I had."

"You could come here with me."

"Well, sure, but she's not my best friend. So, it's different. I'd be just the tagalong boyfriend."

"I know. I mean, you wouldn't be."

The house was amazing. Even John could admit that. The house in France had been nicer, but that was John's personal preference. He liked old buildings. This house was maybe as old as Claire's house and not an expense had been spared to ensure that it was impressive. He supposed when you were Wren Savage you did that sort of thing.

"Can you imagine a kid growing up here? Thinking this is normal?"

"It will be normal to him or her."

"I guess so," he said.

"You're sure you don't want to take him up on his offer of being able to take one of his cars tomorrow?"

"No, I'm not, but it seemed rude. I don't know. He offered, but he also said the car we're going in would bring us back here anytime we wanted to come back. It seemed stupid to take a car there when I don't know my way around. I figure we'll stay a while and when we're ready to leave we'll hit the driver up for a ride. I don't know how long we'll stay. Since I don't know anyone except the three of you I don't see myself staying all night. Rich won't be there, no one from the publisher will be there that I'm aware of. Even if they were, I wouldn't want to stand there and talk to them all night anyway. On the other hand, maybe we'll both have a great time and leave with them. Then driving separately will have been for nothing. I don't have that much to say to anyone so am I counting us leaving with them? No. He will probably need to stay until the end. Am I wrong? You want me to tell him we want one?"

"It's not my movie."

"It's not mine either. You, though, aren't recovering as well as you should be. I saw how tired you were at the end of the convention last weekend. You don't think I notice these things. I do, though. I saw it in your eyes. I saw how happy you were to be home in your bed Sunday night. I know how quickly you fell asleep. I felt pretty guilty, and we didn't even really do anything that kept us that busy. Here after this morning it's going to be non-stop until we're on a plane heading home again. I don't like the idea of you getting sick again because of me."

"I'm not going to get sick again. I'm fine. I'm just tired!"

"That's not normal. It's been over six weeks. I'm not counting, but it was the weekend before Valentine's Day and Dallas, so it's easy to remember. I mean, I understand you were real sick, though I can't help but think your furnace on the fritz contributed to your fainting. You'd made it through the day seemingly all right. Regardless, you should be pretty close to back on track. Shouldn't you?"

"I don't know."

"Have you seen your doctor lately?"

"No! I'm not sick so I've had no reason to go see her. I'm just tired. She said it could take a while to feel normal again. She didn't give me a time table, but I was in the hospital for almost forty-eight hours so I guess I figure it's just taking me time. Flying to see you while a relaxing weekend may not have been the wisest thing I've done just getting out of the hospital."

"Yeah, I shouldn't have asked you to do that I guess."

"You should have. I'm glad you did. It's not your fault. I made the ultimate decision to go, knowing I'd been running a bit of a fever earlier that morning. I had fun. I just can't help but think maybe that set me back a bit, you know?"

"I'm glad. That you had fun, I mean. I was a little worried Tiffani blew any chance of a good time you'd have. And well any chance I had with you."

"She didn't. And I'd go with you anytime."

"Yeah?"

"Yes. I mean, I can rent a car and do things if I feel like it. I'm never going to want to do more than listen to you and maybe walk around for a while. I mean, some of the other guests are interesting to listen to, but I don't understand half the questions being asked so I get lost. I still can't believe that painting I bought last weekend. I mean, how can she possibly make any money selling those things for ten dollars?"

"Enough people buy them…"

"I know, but she should have art in a studio being sold."

"I think she's one of those who goes where the money is."

"I guess. I still couldn't believe it. I almost wanted to give her more for it."

"I know."

She'd found a small painting by someone who was just there to sell her stuff. Her artwork could probably be labeled as fantasy, but it was unicorns and fairies and stuff. She wasn't using anyone's characters or anything. John imagined she probably did pretty well because he had to admit the painting Claire bought was nice. It wasn't huge, nothing she could hang on her wall or anything, but she'd framed it and put it on a shelf in her office next to her desk in her office. He liked that she had something from time with him in her office.

When had that even happened? Being involved with someone who had, things – tokens, from the things they'd done together. He wasn't sure. He was still coming to grips with the fact she'd told him she loved him last weekend. He hadn't expected that. He knew she did, but he'd assumed it would take her a lot longer to admit it to herself let alone him.

"So, you get to go do your girlie thing while I get to what exactly?"

"Do whatever you want. Swim, take a nap, walk along the beach, lay out, read a book, or watch TV. Something tells me there's no shortage of TVs here. I bet you could find a movie or two to watch."

"Very funny."

"I won't be long."

"You were gone for hours last weekend!"

"You were busy. I didn't think you noticed."

"Not notice that I didn't see you for hours? Uh, yeah, I noticed."

Tonight was a party. Tomorrow was the premiere and after-party. John wasn't sure what the party tonight was for, but he couldn't deny he was looking forward to it in a way. When was he ever going to get an opportunity like this? Rene wasn't going to invite him to other movie premieres so this was it.

"I kind of figured you'd be glad I found something to do."

"Well, sure, I was, and I was glad you got to spend time with your friend. That doesn't mean I didn't notice you were gone for hours."

"We'll be as fast as we can."

"That means absolutely nothing from two women who could probably spend all day doing that shit."

"John."

"I know, I know," he said. It was part of who she was. He got that, didn't mean he thought she needed to spend hours getting her hair done. He could understand it, he supposed. He'd taken her with him to buy a new suit for the weekend. He had no idea what he'd need for something like this. So, even he'd put some thought into what he'd look like, the image he'd project, out here.

"Sit out on that balcony and do nothing."

"It's not screened in like yours is."

"I know, right? You thought I was foolish for having something like that done to my bedroom."

"No, I didn't think you were foolish, but it's still kind of cold out back home so I didn't stop to appreciate how useful it might be come summer. Looking at this balcony, though, I can see the appeal."

"I did."

"Obviously."

She had a very small balcony off her bedroom. Big enough for two chairs and that was it really. She'd had it screened in, though. He hadn't gotten the appeal at first, but being able to sit out there before bed or in the morning after waking up without having to worry about bugs when it was nicer out would be nice. He imagined she'd already enjoyed it several times since living there.

"You'll get to sit out there with me."

"That's when I started appreciating it."

"When you thought of sitting out there with me?"

"Yes."

"I'm glad you did."

"All right," he said once they'd both gotten their things put away. "I guess let's go find something to keep me occupied until tonight."

"Ha ha. We won't be that long."

"What would you have done if we weren't where we are right now?"

"What?" she asked, clearly confused.

"I meant," he said, gesturing to the room. "Well, there's only one bed. Not a hotel room where people would know we were or weren't sharing it. Not a restaurant for me to go sit in forever every morning while you shower and get dressed."

"I probably would've gotten dressed in the bathroom. I don't know. I hadn't thought about it. I would've been able to sleep with you, though."

"That is very good to know." He slid his arms around her and drew her to him for a kiss. "Now, I just have to worry whether you'll let me get any sleep."

"Very funny!"

"I know, right? I crack myself up."

"What are you doing?" she asked him.

"Grabbing something to draw with."

"Why?"

"That's what I do?"

"No, I know that, but why now? You have a house you could do anything in…"

"Sure, I'm not going to snoop around someone's house when he's gone and his wife's out with my girlfriend doing stuff. I'll find a room with a TV and sit and draw until you guys get back. I have a few things I'm working on anyway. It'll be fine. I'm never bored at least. What would you do if the situation was reversed?"

"I'd probably use the pool and then come back in here and take a nap."

"Hmm. How long are you guys going to be?"

"I don't know. Why?" she asked him.

"Well, I could arrange for the nap part if you were going to come back and join me."

"Not after I've had my hair done!"

"I like your hair this way."

"What way? I didn't do anything with it this morning besides blow it dry and put some hairspray in it since I knew we were doing this."

"I know. It's down and loose. I like it."

"Really?"

"Yes!"

"I guess I didn't realize you had a preference."

"Down," he said. "Easy thing to have a preference about. I liked it the way you had it years ago, but I think I sort of fell in love with your hair a little bit at the reunion."

"Shut up!"

"It looks good on you. You wear the red well. Not everyone can even if that's what they've been given to work with. What can I say? I like it even if Rich seems to think it's a portent of bad things to come."

"It's not! Redheads are not any worse than anyone else. People just like saying that. We're different, you know, so have to paint us even more different in everyone else's eyes."

"I'll believe that after our first fight."

"I'm not planning on doing that."

"I'm not either, but I suspect inevitably it will happen. People fight. You know. You're a cat person, I'm a dog person."

"What does that have to do with anything?"

"Nothing. Other than obviously we're different, people are different. Arguments are going to creep up. I think I'd worry if we never had one, that can't be good."

"I suppose."

"I'm not planning one tomorrow or anything. Just saying. It's inevitable when two people spend time together."

"I kind of liked you taking it down for me at their wedding."

"I did, too," he admitted, twisting a bit of her hair around his finger. She didn't put as much hairspray in today as she usually did. Because she knew she was getting it done? Probably, though he wasn't sure. He hadn't paid attention when they flew to Paris together and they hadn't flown down or back from Dallas together since he'd gotten there before and left after her. "I don't think I've ever touched anyone for that long for, well you know, no reason."

"I bet you hadn't." She laughed softly at that. "It felt nice."

"Yeah?"

"Yes, very, you were touching me. Even if it was my hair it was you doing it."

"Well, I'd do it again, but my preference is still down."

"I'll see what I can do."

"I'm glad I said something then. I mean, I don't hate it up."

"That's good to know."

"All right, let's get you on your way. Hopefully April will show me where I can be to stay out of anyone's way."

"You're not in anyone's way. You were the invited one. I'm just the plus one."

He chuckled softly. "There's nothing just about you, Claire, but I get it. Still, it's their house."

He opened the door then, letting her pass through first. It was a nice room. He'd expected no less, really. Everything, though, from the little soaps in the dish by the sink to the alarm clock on the table next to the bed were very nice. John didn't need to know about things like that to know they cost a fortune.

April showed John to a room perfect for his purposes. There was a good sized desk for him to work at and a TV for him to watch if he wanted to do that. She showed him how to work the remote control since they had a satellite dish. John had just regular old cable at his condo. Watching TV wasn't really a priority to him.

One of their staff brought him the day's paper after they left him to his own devices, which John would've appreciated if he knew anything about LA to care about their news. He wasn't a Lakers or Clippers fan so that ruled out most everything. The staff person, Eve John learned because it bothered him to have someone checking on him he couldn't address by name, brought him a can of Coke and a sandwich from the kitchen (which he only agreed to because she offered it). She came in periodically, to check on him most likely, though she never disturbed him. She only spoke to him if he looked up from what he was working on. He guessed working for Wren Savage she was probably used to not bothering someone who was working.

So, he didn't think anything of it when someone walked into the room. She'd been in and out throughout the little while Claire and April had been gone.

"Do you ever do anything but draw?"

That wasn't Eve's voice. He would've preferred it over Allen's. Then he'd prefer anyone's over Allen's. Especially here this weekend. He'd been looking forward to a real nice weekend with Claire, and her friend. He really was worried about her, despite what she said he knew she wasn't getting better as quickly as she should be. She hadn't had a fever since February, but the fatigue and other things she just couldn't shake. She still had a problem eating things once in a while, which bothered him probably more than the fatigue. She got enough sleep, he did his best to ensure she did. Eating, though, he couldn't control what she tried to eat when she was at work and stuff so he had no idea what she ate some days.

"Nope," John said. "My mom told me once that I picked up crayons before I even knew what they were for. Not much has changed I guess. Just pencils now and better paper."

It's all he'd had growing up to distract him from the shit that surrounded him at home. Eventually, he was old enough where he didn't have to be there all of the time, but he still had to distract himself from the shit. It still went on even if he wasn't home to see, hear, and experience it. Making friends wasn't real easy for him because it seemed as though anytime he got close enough to befriend someone they stopped hanging out with him once they found out what his life was like. Or their parents found out, knew about his parents and stopped them from hanging out with him. As if it was his fault who his parents were.

By the time he'd gotten to junior high and eventually high school he'd perfected being a loner. His pencils and paper were all he needed. Throw in a joint now and again and he was good. Eventually, though, his drawing proved to be a benefit, something he could do to reel people in. He didn't do it often, he'd stopped putting himself out there to get shunned or ridiculed by people. Claire was one of the few he'd drawn a picture for their senior year in a long time. By then he'd had a group he hung around with who didn't give a shit about his background. He brought good dope, which was all they cared about. He had friends, but not in the way Claire had them. Then, maybe there wasn't that big of a difference between their friends back then when all was said and done. Neither of them were able to be themselves. She did it with the rich crowd, he did it with the burnouts. He thought he had more fun, but they'd both ended up here so obviously it turned out okay.

"Where is everyone?"

"Out," John said.

"Obviously," he said.

"I didn't realize you were going to be here," John said.

He hadn't. It wasn't any of his business, but April had made it sound like the rose was off the bloom for Rene where Allen was concerned. At least that was how Claire presented it to him. She'd been happy to hear that. She hated the idea of him getting close to Rene and even closer to April. Then he remembered Claire had mentioned April hadn't told Rene about the club thing yet. So that was probably why he was here. Rene didn't know. John couldn't fathom not telling the guy, but then he supposed that was what one did in a relationship – protected one another from things that could hurt or upset them. Rene didn't need distractions this weekend.

"Rene invited me to come into town for the weekend."

Not to the premiere, though, evidently, was the implication. John smirked slightly at that. He couldn't help it.

"Huh. To do what exactly? Supervise that his guests' drinks get mixed right?"

"I'm not a bartender."

"Doesn't sound like you're going to be a bar owner much longer either."

"How did you…"

John shrugged, Allen was obviously processing where and how John would have that information.

"Bonnie," he whispered. "Stupid women, can't keep their mouths shut."

"And that right there probably sums up why you were at the wedding and are here this weekend stag and Rene and I are not."

"Don't be so cocky. You're not married last I checked."

"I didn't realize I claimed I was. Not yet anyway. I'm working on that. I'm still not here by myself. Your sister isn't even here with you this trip."

Then again, maybe that wasn't a good thing. Maybe his sister knew, suspected what kind of guy he was and had her husband stay home so her brother wouldn't be free to prey on the single women at April and Rene's wedding. John would never know, he supposed. He hadn't even realized Allen was going to be here so he hadn't been prepared in the least for a run-in with the guy.

"I still don't trust you."

"Fantastic. I'll sleep much better tonight knowing that hasn't changed. That means the world is just as it was back in December. Anything else?"

"This isn't your room or even your home. You can't dismiss me."

"No, I suppose not, but you could choose not to be rude and intrude when I'm obviously doing something. If you can't do that well then I can leave and go to my room. You can't follow me there. Well, I guess you could, but I somehow don't think even you are that big of a dick as to do that."

"You expect people to buy that you just ran into her at your reunion and started dating her months before April's wedding to Rene?"

"What's to buy? It happened. I can give you some names of people from our senior year who will tell you very plainly we were into each other then."

"But you never asked her out."

It was on the tip of his tongue to explain, to justify his actions (or non-actions) to this guy but he stopped himself. He didn't owe him anything and somehow he knew if Claire knew he had any details about her life, however distant those details were, she'd be mad.

"It's worked out pretty well for us so far I'd say."

"Awful convenient for you that her best friend was marrying the guy directing your comic hero's movie."

"She mentioned the wedding to me in," John thought back on what might be a reasonable time-frame. "September maybe? I don't remember. I'd already been seeing her for months by then and she never even told me the guy's name April was marrying. She just wanted me to know she was going to be gone for a week and why."

"Yet, somehow you managed to come with."

"Blame your sister! She, April, and the others from their sorority who were at the wedding wanted to meet me. They seemed to think because we'd known one another for years spending a week together in Paris wasn't an issue for a couple who'd only been dating a few months. I had no problem staying home." John chuckled softly as Allen was doing his best not to look at what John had been drawing when he'd come in here. He had no idea whose desk this normally was or if it was just one in a room so that people like him had somewhere to work if they wanted to. The house was big enough he supposed it was a possibility.

"Why are you so concerned with who she dates anyway?"

"I just don't like you."

"The feeling's pretty mutual. So, I'll say again what I said back in December. Stop worrying about my girlfriend and worry about your own life. Sounds like you've got enough going on to keep you busy for a while without worrying about what she and I are doing."

"She's not what she seems, you know."

"You think you know her better than I do? Really? No," he said simply. "You didn't even hang out with her. You didn't even live near her after her freshman year. And I know you don't know anything more about her than what April passes onto your sister because she's admitted to me she and your sister aren't so close anymore. So if you're trying to somehow make me jealous of her having some eighteen year old crush on her friend's big brother ten years ago you've failed. I don't care what she did before last June."

"You don't care?"

"Nope," John said. "And there's nothing disparaging you could tell me I'd believe anyway because you seem to have some sort of ulterior motive. And I know Claire."

"She deserves better."

"Well, I'm not Wren Savage, I admit that, but I do all right. She's a big girl and can figure out her own love life. Besides, her parents love me. I have you to thank for that, too, I understand. I haven't had an in to meeting someone's parents paved for me so smoothly before in my life. I had her brother offer to take my dog this weekend if I didn't have anyone lined up. I'm pretty sure her mom has been thinking of China patterns to convince Claire to choose since then. So, that worked out great."

"You wanted to meet them?"

"Well, yeah. They're her parents. I don't talk to mine so it was sort of one-sided, but you know. It is what it is. They put on an excellent Christmas dinner, by the way. I've never had one before, so really you did me a favor. Thanks for that."

Silence. Evidently Allen was processing the fact that his heart-to-heart with Claire's mom hadn't had the desired effect at all. John wondered what the guy had been hoping for exactly.

"I didn't know you'd be here."

"Well, I am. With Claire. Did we get your usual room or something? Is that what has you all pissed off? Or are you worried that your buddy Rene isn't going to throw you a bone since another guy's around."

"I was hoping to talk with Claire."

"Here?" John asked. That couldn't be good. "This weekend? I think she's going to be a little busy doing things with me and April."

"I need a lawyer. As you pointed out…"

"Claire's not going to be your lawyer," he said. Yeah, no way in hell was that happening. "I wouldn't let her be even if she wanted to do it."

"You think you could stop her?"

"Yes," John said. She'd feel guilty for some crazy-assed reason and he'd have to step in and force her to do the right thing for her instead of for someone else for a change.

"She can't represent me anyway. I'm not in Illinois. I have a few names, I just thought she might know if one is better than another…"

"Yeah, I can relay that message to her without you having to talk to her. Easy. Consider it done."

"You can't stop her from talking to me."

"I can't, you're right. Go ahead. Talk to her. See what kind of answer you get out of her. She'll mention it to me because that's how she is, so the answer will still be no. Maybe you should've kept your feelings about me to yourself. I don't make it a habit of helping assholes, Claire needs to stop doing it, too. May as well start here and now with you."

"You're a controlling ass. I don't know why no one else sees it."

"Yup, that's me. Now, are you done talking to me? Or are you really going to make me take all of my shit up to our bedroom to get away from you? I realize you don't understand what I do, apparently it's too complicated a concept for you to get. I am working here, though."

"Who is that?" he asked, surprising John.

"I don't know yet," John said with a shrug. "Sometimes I just draw things and I don't know what's coming out. This is one of those times. Sometimes they find their way into comics, sometimes they find their way into other things. Sometimes I finish them up real nice and sell them at conventions I go to. People are willing to pay for something original I've drawn."

"Huh," he said. "That's actually pretty good."

"Thanks," he said cautiously. He sounded suspicious even to himself. He wasn't sure what angle the guy was going with all of the sudden complimenting John's drawing.

"And the idea just comes to you?"

"Yes. I don't know how to explain it," John shrugged. He'd tried to people who didn't get it and it was impossible. It seemed to him it was either one of those things that was inside of you or it wasn't.

"I don't think I could draw a flower to save my life."

Allen wasn't the only one out there with that problem so he hadn't just said anything John hadn't heard before. "Are we done bonding now? Can I get back to work?"

"When do you think they'll be back?"

"I don't know. They're women getting their hair and nails done. You figure out how to tell how long that takes you'd probably win a medal from all of the men in the world. I imagine they will probably take the time to do some shopping in there, too. Individually, I could give a guess on Claire, but those two together. I have no clue. I swear last weekend I thought she'd gotten lost or kidnapped or something they were gone so long. So, really, they could be gone until they have no choice but to come back for the party tonight."

"You're going?"

"Yup," John said, realizing with his answer and Allen's reaction to it that Allen apparently wasn't going. Interesting. Maybe Rene didn't need the information about the bar closing and why to realize Allen was a jerk.

"You know they have more than sandwiches here," Allen said, evidently noticing the empty plate on the desk near John's pencils. Eve hadn't come back to collect it yet, which was fine with John. He'd told her not to fuss over him. He probably could've made himself a sandwich, but he wouldn't have known where anything was and likely would have disrupted whoever did things like prepare sandwiches routine. He knew where the kitchen was. If Eve didn't come back soon he'd return the plate himself the next time he got up, but the plate wasn't bothering him so he just hadn't done it yet.

"I bet they do. It's all I wanted. Thanks for the tip, though."

John watched him leave. He was still having a hard time figuring the guy out. He didn't seem like a rapist. Then what did a rapist seem like? Never having met one, that he knew about anyway, he had no idea. Allen was a decent looking guy, he was decently intelligent from what John could see, and when he wasn't being a dick for whatever reason was a fairly nice guy. John saw the way he interacted with others at the wedding back in December. He didn't get it. He didn't get the guy's seeming interest in Claire or John. It made no sense.

He shook his head a little, returning his attention to his drawing. Fortunately, the guy hadn't interrupted him an hour ago when he was really concentrating and focused. He would have been really pissed off then. Now he was just irritated in part because he had to play nice with a guy he had no desire to do that with.

***

"Here you are," Claire said much later. He wasn't too far off when he'd told Allen they may not get back until they were pushing it to get dressed and leave on time for the party.

"I'm here. Were you expecting me to be somewhere else?"

"No, I just wasn't sure where you might be."

"I came up here about an hour ago, figured I'd get a head start on showering and shaving so the bathroom was free for you when you got back."

"Thank you."

"Sure," he said.

"What's wrong?"

"Did you know Allen's here this weekend?"

"April told me while we were out, yes."

"You didn't know before that?"

"No!"

"He wants to ask you if you know some lawyers."

"What?"

"Yeah, I told him I'd relay the message to you. So I've held true to my word. Says he has a list or something and wondered if you knew if any were better than the others."

"I could…"

"Don't. Don't you dare help him, Claire."

"John."

"Claire. Do you know sometimes when you wake up next to me I feel you start to panic?"

"I do not."

"You do, too. It's like you're half waking up and not sure where you are and you freak out. Do you know how that makes me feel every time that happens? I feel like shit. I wonder if you're really ready for this. If I'm pushing you somehow for more than you are ready for."

"You didn't push me into anything!"

"Realistically I know that, but when that happens I wonder. You know? I hate wondering that. I hate wondering if I'm somehow contributing to you thinking you're somewhere you don't want to be."

"I'm exactly where I want to be."

"I'm glad to hear that, I am, but I do not want you helping the guy who causes you still over nine years later to wake up and freak out because I'm lying next to you."

"I'm a lawyer. I do know people down in Texas. I might…"

"He can find his own damned lawyer, Claire. It's not your job from Illinois to help him."

"Yes, but…"

"Do what you want. He doesn't deserve it. Never mind that, I don't like it. If that means nothing to you then so be it."

She sighed softly and he saw tears in her eyes.

"I'm sorry. I'm not trying to fight with you. I'm really not, but I know you. You'll do what you think is the right thing for him never mind what it does to you. I don't like you talking to him! It's bad enough I have to."

"I know. I'm sorry, I didn't know or I could have prepared you."

"He still doesn't like me much."

"That's too bad," she said. She leaned up and kissed him. "Do you like my hair?"

"I do," he said, noticing for the first time really since she'd come into their bedroom that while styled very elaborately with part of it up there was still a good amount of it down. "Best of both worlds, I guess. I get to take it down later yet it's still down."

"I thought it was a happy medium."

"It is."

"I love you. I won't help him."

"I love you, too, and thank you."

"And I didn't realize I did that, woke up that way."

"It's not every time or anything. I don't know if you're dreaming of something, or if a noise in the house rousts you enough that you're just not quite awake and not used to my being next to you yet."

"I'm not!"

"Yeah, I'm not so used to it either."

They didn't spend every night at one or the other's place, but rarely had more than two nights gone by since she'd been in the hospital where they didn't spend the night together. He'd be worried they were moving too fast if they were anyone else. Ten years wasn't too fast in his opinion, but he knew others would probably caution him.

His dad would certainly. He'd tell him Claire was out to catch him somehow. Only thing was John wasn't so sure he didn't want to get caught. So how bad could letting her do it be?

"Since you're in the mood to give into what I ask you to do," he said cautiously.

"Yeah?"

"I'd really feel better if you made an appointment with your doctor. I don't care what you say, you're not recovering as fast as you should be. What if there's something else wrong and you need different antibiotics or something?"

"I doubt that, but I suppose it couldn't hurt."

"I would feel better."

"I'm sure it's nothing, but I'll call on Monday and see if she wants me to come in."

"Thank you," he said. "I don't really want to show up at your house one day to the same scene as that night."

"I don't either."

"Well, good, we're in agreement there. And if it turns out to be nothing and you have a copay or something I'll pay it."

"You don't have to do that."

"I'm asking you to go."

"I'm not going to make you pay for being concerned."

"Thank you."

"You just want me to stop being so tired all of the time so I can be up later in bed with you."

"Well, considering I know how much rest you've been getting lately and it's not fixing it, yeah."

"I know."

"Wait, you think I'm worried because of our sex life?"

"Well, I know I'm too tired sometimes…"

"Jesus, Claire, that's not why I'm asking you. It's going on close to two months. I'm worried about you. I could give a shit about our sex life."

"You could, huh?"

"Well, okay, perhaps that was the wrong phrasing to use. I give a shit, of course, but that's not why I'm worried." He frowned a little, regarding her. He slid his arms around her and brought her to him. "You think I'm unhappy?"

"No, I mean, I try."

"You succeed very well. I have no complaints."

"Now I know you're just saying that to be nice."

"I am not. What could I possibly have to complain about?"

"I don't know," she said.

"Well, I don't either, and I'm the one you're talking to. We're fine, Princess, I swear it. I just want to make sure you're good physically. You know?"

"Okay."

He slid a fingertip under her chin, tilting her face up a bit so he could look her in the eye. "I don't like hearing you say stuff like that. We're fine. If I had a problem with something I'd speak up."

"Yes, but you never…"

"I never what?"

"You always wait for me to, you know," she shrugged, casting her eyes down a bit.

"Initiate?"

"Yes!"

"Yes, for you I do that. You started this, Claire, until I know you're comfortable with it I'm leaving you in charge."

"That can't be very fun for you."

"Sweetheart, it's more than fun for me. I'm fine with it. I don't want to hurt you, you know?"

"You don't. You couldn't."

"Well, I still worry, I guess that you'll wake up one of these mornings and wonder what the fuck you started by taking us down that road."

"I won't."

"I'm just being safe. I'll be honest, the thought crossed my mind this weekend," he shrugged. "But with him here." He shook his head. "I think I'll store that thought away for another weekend."

"I'm sorry."

"It's not your fault. Not at all. Now, if we were years into this not weeks I maybe would feel differently."

"I hope you don't wait years."

He chuckled softly. "Well, obviously by saying I'd thought about it this weekend I don't plan on it."

"Why this weekend?"

He shrugged. "I don't know. We're somewhere nice, doing something fun that's a once in a lifetime thing for both of us, really. I just thought I'd know if you were receptive to it."

"I get it."

"Good, because I'm not sure it made sense, but in my head it sure did. So, do you need help getting dressed?"

"What kind of help did you have in mind?"

"I don't know. You need a zipper done or anything?"

"I think I might."

"All right. I'm just the man for such a task."

"Good to know," she said.

He leaned in and kissed her. She kissed him back with such emotion that he was a bit overwhelmed. He wasn't sure why he thought she was going to have second thoughts about having sex with him. Six or seven weeks now should tell him she wasn't, but he didn't pretend to understand what she might be thinking at any given time.

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