***Chapter Twenty-One***
Word Count: 4,532

She was settled in and resting with Tux by her feet when John went downstairs. Sammy stayed upstairs, too, which sort of surprised John. He figured he'd follow John down here. So much for loyalty. Either that or he just sensed Claire needed comfort. He'd suggested the couch since she'd been lying in bed at the hospital, but she figured since she had a TV and everything in her room there was no sense in adjusting throw pillows and everything to get comfortable just to have to do it again for her to go to bed. He'd do it, but she didn't really seem to want to be anywhere but her bed.

She'd been released late this afternoon and was understandably grateful to be home in her own bed with her cat and her own blankets that were much warmer and softer than hospital blankets. She'd eyed the bathroom, but decided to put off a shower until morning. She'd taken one at the hospital this morning, but he was sure it wasn't the same.

He'd be up there with her but she said she was hungry so he was down here to see what he could make for her. Soup and a sandwich would probably work best. He wasn't sure what she was in the mood for, she didn't exactly say. He had something to do anyway, so would've come down here anyway.

He picked up her phone in the kitchen, dialing out. He hadn't had a chance to do this last night and he'd been kind of dreading it all day.

"Hi, Stacey, it's John Bender. How are you today?"

"I'm good, John. How are you?"

"Oh, I'm all right, thanks."

"Just all right?"

"Yeah, you know one of those days."

"I do know, sorry to hear that. You didn't come see us when you were in town in March."

"I know I ran out of time. My girlfriend and her friends kept me a little busy. Next time, though, for sure."

"Good. We always enjoy seeing you."

"Thanks. Say, is Rich around?"

"He is. He's on another call, but it shouldn't be long so let me put you on hold."

"I really just need a minute of his time, but it is kind of important."

"Sure, let me slip him a note you're on the line. Okay?"

"Thanks, I appreciate it," he said.

He found some soup in the freezer. Her mom's soup he remembered from when she'd been sick in February. Her mom had made a whole batch of it so Claire had frozen it in single-serving plastic baggies instead of a big container. He would never have thought of doing that in a million years, but it was pretty handy. All he had to do was open the bag, put it in a bowl and reheat it in her microwave. One individual bowl of homemade soup in a matter of seconds. He was going to keep it in mind for the next time he made chili. He loved chili, but eating a whole pot of it for one person, even two people if Claire was going to help him, was a bit much. Freezing like this would be a great way to handle the leftovers.

The sandwich wasn't quite as easy, but he was on hold anyway so he could do a grilled cheese easy enough while he waited. He'd kind of laughed back in February when she'd been sick and chicken soup and grilled cheese had been her preferred thing to eat. He hadn't had a grilled cheese sandwich until that week in years. (He had to admit it tasted pretty damned good, though his preferred soup to go with a grilled cheese was tomato. Oddly that was the one fond memory of his mother he had, eating tomato soup and grilled cheese sandwiches with her when either one of them were sick.)

"Hey, John," Rich said.

"Hey, how's it going?"

"Oh, busy. You know. One of those days. I don't have a lot of time, but Stacey said it was important. What's up?"

"I was hoping you could find someone else to go to Kansas City this weekend."

"John, it's Tuesday evening. The convention opens Thursday night."

"I'm aware of that."

Silence.

John had made his request, he wasn't going to say anymore unless he was made to.

"Why don't you want to go to Kansas City?"

"It's not that I don't want to go, it's that I'm needed here."

"Needed there? What does that mean, John?"

"It means exactly what I said it does. I know you're not used to anyone needing me, but someone does. You can't just take my word for it and find someone?"

"John. Need I remind you the movie just came out? This is it, buddy. I don't know about you, but I hear the cash register drawers opening as we speak."

"I don't need a reminder, no," he said, sighing softly. Of course, Rich and the other executives stood to make the most money. He was sure he'd see something, somewhere but nowhere near what the suits would.

He really didn't want to do this, but here it went. He'd never in all the years he'd worked with Rich pulled the personal issue card. He'd gone where he was told to go. He'd gone sick more than once. He rarely complained.

"Claire had a miscarriage last night, Rich. She's got a broken arm, too. She just got home from the hospital about an hour ago. I'd rather not leave her alone because she's hurting. Is that needed enough for you?"

"Oh, I had no idea."

"Obviously because I didn't tell you. I thought after years of never saying no I'd be allowed a free pass without delving into personal shit I didn't want to share."

"Hey, don't get snappy with me."

"I'm not. One time I call and ask you to find someone to replace me in the years I've been doing this and you bust my balls about it. I shouldn't have to tell you my personal business to get out of it once."

"You're right. I just wasn't expecting that as your answer."

"I'm not sure what answer you were expecting?"

"I don't know either. We'll take care of it."

"Thank you," he said.

"Is she all right?"

John shrugged as he buttered the second slice of bread before setting it on top of the cheese slices already on the other piece of bread in the pan toasting. Rich obviously couldn't see the shrug. "Define all right. She just lost a baby. How all right would you be, do you think?"

"No, no, I get that. I mean, is she okay? You know. No problems?"

"Oh, aside from the baby that was inside of her yesterday morning when she woke up, you mean? Why would that be a problem, but I get what you're asking. Some pain, which they said would be normal probably over the next couple of weeks. The procedure is supposed to make them less severe, but the doctor said that's not tried and true."

"Right, there's an exception to every rule."

"I guess."

"If there's anything we, I, can do."

"Do?"

"Yeah, I don't know. If you need anything. Help?"

"I'm fine. I stopped by my condo on the way here to get Sammy and my stuff. I'll be fine."

"I'm not asking for deadlines, John. If you need time off… If you needed me to fly out there."

"No, you don't need to fly out here, but thanks for the offer I guess. I think I'd prefer to be kept busy anyway."

"All right, well, if you change your mind. You've never asked for time off before."

"I'm glad that's occurred to you."

"It does."

"Thanks," John said.

"Thanks for telling me, even if that's not what you called to do. I'm sorry. How far along was she?"

"Three months."

"Really?" He could almost hear the unasked question hanging there. Rich was wondering why three months had gone by and John hadn't said a word about it. "That's tough," he said, evidently realizing John wasn't going to explain himself.

"Yeah," John said. He glanced at the palm of his hand for a second thinking about what Christopher had said about the baby's size. Three months and in six more months it grew to the size of, well, a baby. He had no idea how big babies were, not really, but he'd heard six, seven, and eight pounds. Clearly, nothing six pounds would fit in the palm of his hand.

"You all right?" Rich said.

"I'm okay."

"You sure? It's normal for you not to be all right, too. I mean, if you're not, and you need to talk."

"I'm fine."

"All right, just know the offer is there."

"I'd probably talk to…"

"Claire?"

"Yeah, I guess not," John said, realizing that'd be foolish. And cruel.

"Well, the offer's there. You know my numbers. Call anytime."

"Why are you so sympathetic?"

"It's a baby, what's not to be sympathetic about? I like you, John. I hate to see bad things happen to people I like. Losing a baby is a bad thing."

"Thanks," he said.

"Hey, and if she needs time to recuperate I bet her friend would let her stay with them for a while."

"I don't think she has plans on going to California anytime soon."

"That's too bad."

"Why?" John asked.

"Because that'd mean you'd come out, too. I like when you come out."

"Oh," John said.

"You take care, John, and I hope Claire's all right. She seems nice and good for you."

"She is both," he said, realizing he'd come awfully close to fucking that up.

"And don't worry about the weekend. We'll get it taken care of."

"Thank you."

"Sure. Thanks for calling, and not waiting until the last second."

"I would've called last night…"

"Well, if it just happened last night you had your hands full. I understand."

"And Rich?"

"Yeah?"

"I'd appreciate it if you don't tell anyone else. If they ask, tell them I had a family emergency or something. Tell them about the broken arm, whatever. Just not the baby. We hadn't told anyone. Her brother knows and you know now. That's it. We hadn't gotten to the point of telling anyone. I don't need her friend April finding out through the grapevine and calling her up…"

"I get it. We're good."

"Thank you," he said.

He hung up, finishing her sandwich and finding the tray he remembered from February. He probably should have waited to let her get comfortable in bed until after she'd eaten but she hadn't mentioned being hungry until they'd done that.

He brought everything upstairs, shaking his head slightly at Sammy and her cat. It was a good thing she had a big bed because something told him they'd be using every inch of it tonight.

"Hey," he said as she shifted so he could put the tray around her on the bed. It was pretty handy, he had to admit.

"Sammy, down," he said before doing that. The dog as good as he was could be clumsy sometimes.

"He's fine."

"I know, but we don't need him getting curious and knocking the soup over."

"Oh, right," she said. "Thank you for letting him be up here."

"You let him up here."

"I know, but you wouldn't let me before."

He shrugged. "You wanted him up here. He's fine. I just don't like him in the habit of thinking he can jump on anyone's furniture. I don't care about mine."

"I felt bad he had to sleep on the floor whenever you stayed here before. Besides, he's a good snuggler."

"He is," John admitted.

"I never thought I'd hear you admit that."

He set the tray around her then while Sammy laid on the floor by his feet. Tuxedo hadn't moved. He shrugged. "I can admit to enjoying his company and not having to sleep alone every night."

"Me, too," she said. "Who were you talking to?"

"Rich," he said.

"Oh, is everything all right?"

"Yeah, more or less. I was supposed to go to a convention in Kansas City this weekend, but I asked him to find someone else to go."

"John…"

"I'm staying here. I'm needed here. He can find someone else to go. I've never canceled before."

"Because of me! I feel bad."

"Don't. You didn't ask me to. You didn't even know about it because it came up during the time you weren't talking to me."

"Oh," she said, apparently realizing she hadn't known about it before.

"I did tell him what happened, but asked him not to tell anyone else. I don't think he will. I think he'll respect that we haven't told anyone else."

"I hope so."

"I told him I didn't need April or Rene finding out through the grapevine, so I think he'll keep quiet. He said he was sorry."

"Thank him for me the next time you talk to him."

"I will. Is the sandwich done enough?"

"It's fine, thank you."

"All right," he said. The last time he'd made one he hadn't cooked it long enough for her. She'd eaten it, but she'd commented on it not being dark enough so he'd tried to cook it a little longer this time.

"You could sit next to me."

"Well, I was going to let Sammy out and see what Tux needed and then I figured by then you'd be done and I could bring that stuff downstairs."

"You don't have to wait on me."

"I know I don't. Add it to the groveling chart," he said.

"Stop."

"Okay. Call it taking care of you."

"I am going to work tomorrow."

"I know you are. That doesn't mean I'm not going to take care of you tonight. And tomorrow night."

"I know."

"Come on, Sammy," he said. "You need anything from that side of the bed before I'm downstairs for a while?"

"No," she said wryly.

He chuckled softly.

"All right, well, I'll be back up in a bit. Tux's stuff is still in the same place?"

"Yes. It's only been a month."

"Yeah, well, I know how women are when they get mad. They clean and shit. At least that's why my mother did. Tried to do. I don't know. Scrub the refrigerator and stuff. I always knew I was going to get it pretty bad when Dad got home the harder she was working on something."

"I hate hearing you say stuff like that."

He shrugged. "It is what it is, you know? I just wanted to make sure you didn't go off on a remodeling binge since my last visit."

"No," she said. "I've been too tired to be that ambitious."

He supposed she had a point.

"Okay then."

***

"Remind me never to break my fricking arm again," she said after coming out of the bathroom. He'd helped her into the bathroom, but she'd insisted on doing what she needed to do alone. He'd let her with the door ajar. He'd had a cast once. It was a little more difficult to maneuver and do things than people thought it was. You never realized how much you relied on both hands until you were restricted to just one.

"Yeah, sure," he said. "Like it was your fault."

"I know, but God, what a pain in the ass."

"You're going to need help with the shower tomorrow, aren't you?"

"Probably."

"Lucky for you I've seen you naked so I can do that."

She smiled a little at that.

"Everything okay?" he asked.

"Yes, why?"

"I don't know. You haven't gone to the bathroom since being home. Just making sure."

"I'd tell you if I thought I was hemorrhaging or something."

"I am relieved to hear that."

"Why am I sleeping on this side of the bed?" she asked when he helped her into the bed. The cast was going to pose a problem for her if she wasn't planning on him staying here until it came off. Not that he got help when he had his, and he knew she could do it without help, too. He liked that she was letting him help her, though.

"Because with the cast on I can't sleep on that side of you."

"You can, too!"

"Not and touch you. And before you freak out, I said touch not accost. You know, put my arm around you. The thing I've done several times when we've slept together before tonight."

"Oh," she said.

"Didn't think I'd want to touch you?"

"Maybe."

"Sweetheart, I'll always want to touch you. God, it made me mad you didn't even want me to open your door for you that day I tried talking to you."

"I know," she said. He took his turn in the bathroom then. He did take the time to take a shower. He hadn't yesterday or yet today and wanted one badly. He joined her in bed not too much later.

"You didn't shave."

"You want me to? I can. You said you didn't mind. I just felt like I needed a shower, but didn't feel like taking the time to do that."

"I know that feeling."

"I'm sure you do," he said.

"You don't have to."

"I will tomorrow, though, since you commented on it."

"All of it?"

"Well, no, just the scraggily stuff you don't seem to like as well."

"It's not bad."

"I don't want you to look at me and think it's not bad, Claire."

"I don't!"

"All right. Is there anything else I need to do for you before the lights go off?"

"No, I'm fine."

"You're sure? No pills to take? No lotion you need me to put on somewhere?"

"I can put lotion on."

"I know you can, I'm offering. It's like a bonus for me, I get to touch you yet do something you need."

"I'm fine, John, really. I'm not an invalid."

"I'll remind you of that when you try to get your shirt on and zip your skirt by yourself tomorrow."

"Shut up," she said, but she laughed so she wasn't mad at him at least.

He reached for the light then, turning it off before moving next to her. She didn't have a whole lot of choice as far as laying went. The cast would probably get too heavy for her to sleep on her side so that left her back. He slid his arm over her waist.

"That okay?" he asked after a moment of considering maybe that wouldn't be comfortable for her right now.

"It's fine," she whispered.

"You need me to move it…"

"I'll just move it if I do. It's fine for now."

"You're going to have to walk me through the pool equipment over the weekend," he whispered as Tux adjusted his position on the bed and Sammy joined them now that he seemed to sense they were in bed for the night and he wasn't going to get scolded.

"I can hire someone…"

"I know you can, but it's not like I'm incapable. Mowing the lawn I don't need you to tell me how to do unless you have a particular way you mow it I suppose. I just don't know how to do the pool. Even after you get the cast off you're not going to be back up to normal again for a while."

"If you're sure you don't mind."

"I'm positive."

"I can walk you through it over the weekend. The week-to-week isn't bad, just adding chlorine and testing the water to be sure levels and everything are right. The pool vacuum I have in there gets most of the crud so I hardly have to skim it really, leaves occasionally. I've had a bird or two in there."

"Dead?"

"Yes," she said, sounding sad about that.

"And Tux doesn't go out?"

"No!"

"Hmm, another cat maybe?"

"Maybe. I don't know. I hadn't thought about it."

"I find it hard to picture you cleaning a pool."

She sighed softly.

"Believe it or not, I like doing things at my house for myself."

"Fair enough. You won't even get to use it this summer, will you?"

"I know," she said with a sigh.

"Sammy and I will make up for it."

"That's not very nice."

"Well, if I'm going to clean it and you're going to pay the electric bill to run it we may as well use it."

"Still not nice."

"Once the cast comes off I'll swim with you."

"God, I hope so."

"Promise."

"Was Rich mad?"

"Mad? What could he do? Make me go where I didn't want to be? I suppose he could have, I realize the Simon Forge frenzy is at its peak right now, but there are others who can step in for me just as well and still have the name represented."

"I know. I just feel bad."

"I don't! I was kind of mad he asked me for a reason, as if I'd bowed out of these things time and time again."

"Well, you did tell him…"

"Yes, I know, but I wouldn't just call in two days before I was supposed to be there. I'm more professional than that."

"You would've been asked where I was."

"Maybe. Kansas City is certainly close enough for you to have come with me."

"What would you have said?"

"Uh, before or after this week? I mean, what are you asking me?"

"Before, I guess. If we still weren't speaking."

"Oh, I would've told them you had to work or something."

"You wouldn't have said we'd broken up?"

"No! We had a fight. A pretty major one, I get that, but people fight. I'm sure it won't be our last."

"Probably not."

"I did not consider us broken up."

"It's my turn to be relieved to hear you say that."

"Oh, I won't deny I thought about it…"

"What stopped you?"

He sighed. "I love you too much to do it. And, well, that would have been a pretty shitty thing to do. Find out you were pregnant and then go have sex with someone else. To you and the other woman."

"I'm glad you didn't."

"I didn't get beyond the 'fuck it, she told me to leave' stage."

"I was surprised you left."

He shrugged. "You told me to."

"I know."

"Just do me a favor, okay?"

"I can try."

"The next time you're pregnant…"

"Oh God, John…"

"I know, hopefully it'll be a while yet before that happens again. Just saying, maybe ease me into that news. Okay?"

"Ease you into it how?"

"I don't know. Maybe remind me of the symptoms April was having and that you had similarly so I can have a chance to come to that conclusion on my own."

"I didn't come to it!"

He chuckled softly, kissing her shoulder. "I suppose you didn't."

"Hopefully the next time I find out I'm pregnant it's because I'm trying to get that way."

"That I look forward to."

"Shut up," she said, no laughing this time.

"What? I do."

"A month ago you didn't want kids and now you look forward to trying to get me pregnant?"

"I look forward to the process of trying, yes. I'm not claiming I hope the process takes on the first or second try."

"Oh," she said.

"The tenth would be all right."

"Why the tenth?"

"I have no idea," he chuckled softly. "It just sounded good."

She was quiet for a while. He thought she'd drifted off to sleep or was at least on her way to.

"I wonder what it was…"

"We'll never know, sweetheart. Don't go to sleep thinking like that. Please," he said. He didn't want her thinking like that because he didn't want to think like that. Thoughts like that would likely eat at both of them if they let them, but especially her.

"I know, I just…"

"I understand. I can't tell you how sorry I am."

"Thank you. I'm sorry, too."

"You don't owe me anything."

"I know, but you didn't even get a chance to…"

"Claire, we're fine. Please don't think like that, okay?"

Quiet again.

"Would you without being married?"

"Huh?" he asked.

"Try again?"

"Oh," he said, shifting his arm over her a bit. He was worried about pressure there whether she said she was fine or not. "Wouldn't we upset some people if we did that? I mean, once was an accident and we had a legitimate reason to explain it away because of."

"I don't care about upsetting anyone else."

"Claire," he said cautiously.

"So you wouldn't?"

"I didn't say that. I'm just not sure that tonight, the day after losing one, is the proper time to talk about this."

"I just…"

"I'm not going to say no, but I think there's a better time to talk about this than right now. I have no idea what you're feeling, loss. I get that much. I can't relate because it wasn't inside of me. I never heard the heartbeat or anything. You did. Your best friend is pregnant so again someone is going to have a baby at the same time you were supposed to. I'm sure the natural instinct for you is to want that again. You come at me again in a few months or something with the idea then we can talk about it."

"Just wondering."

"I know I'd tell you to think long and hard about things. Your parents and grandparents. Living arrangements. Your clients. Things like that."

"Living arrangements?"

"Uh, yeah, I think something better than separate residences would be in order if we were going to have a kid together, don't you?"

"Yeah, I guess," she whispered.

"Get some sleep now," he whispered, kissing her shoulder again. "Never mind you getting sleep. Let me sleep, I'm the one who has to wake up at the ass-crack of dawn to make sure you get ready for work."

She laughed softly.

"I'm glad Christopher was willing to pick me up."

He would have had to drive her otherwise. She could drive and probably would be able to the day after tomorrow, but she'd been on some pretty heavy-duty painkillers because of her arm and whatever they put her under with for the procedure they'd done. He and Chris both agreed she didn't need to be driving for a day or two after that.

"Willing? You think he wouldn't?"

"Oh, I don't know. He's Christopher. I'm sure he's disappointed."

"From the guy who divorced a woman who was already pregnant with his kid? I don't think he has room to cast any stones."

"I know. But they were married and he didn't know she was."

"True. That's why they call them accidents, Princess."

"I'm sorry you have to wake up so early."

"It's all right. I'll take Sammy on a long walk or something. There's a park not too far from here I've noticed." It wasn't nice enough in March to walk him all the way down there, but he'd do it now.

"There is," she said. "There's a school, too, so you may not be able to walk him there."

"Ah, thanks for telling me. I didn't realize. I'll figure something out."

"You could just get back in bed."

"I feel weird sleeping in your bed without you."

"Really?"

"Yes," he said.

"I didn't have a problem sleeping in your bed without you."

"I noticed that, believe me. I like to assume that's because the one time you had to sleep in it without me you were sick!"

"That may have been the reason."

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