***Chapter Twenty-Two***
Word Count: 5,439

June 1995

"So everything's okay then?" Jessica asked when John was there basically to collect his mail. He hadn't been home more than a few hours here and there since Claire got out of the hospital. He did things in his office while she was at work, but he spent as little time as he could here. Honestly, he had no desire to ever stay here again, but he knew that was rushing things so he hadn't said that to her. He'd go home if she told him to, but she hadn't to this point. He had most of the things he needed at her house and she seemed to like not coming home to an empty house after work every day.

"I guess," he said. "How can I tell that? I mean, she seems okay. I don't know."

"Well, have you asked her?"

"Not every second, no. Do I want to do that? She's never going to … get better if I keep bringing it up."

"Well, no, but she may not think you want her to talk about it."

John sighed. He had no idea what to do. Talk to her about it? Don't talk to her about it? Spoil her? Act as if everything was normal? He just didn't know. He wasn't real good with emotional stuff to begin with and this went deeper than anything he'd ever encountered before. He imagined he wasn't the first guy in the world to not know how to handle this situation. At least he was handling this part of it better than he'd handled her telling him. He hoped he was anyway. He was sure trying.

"I suppose. I just don't want to harp on it either. Kind of like the having another one thing."

Jessica smirked a bit at that.

"What?" he asked.

"Nothing. It's just funny hearing the difference in you now from when you first told me about her being pregnant."

"I was freaked out! Not to mention I knew I'd totally fucked up the best thing that's ever happened to me."

"Have you actually talked to her about why you didn't want kids?"

"What do you mean? She knows. She knows firsthand. I mean not every detail of my childhood, no, but she knows."

"All right."

"I mean, had I before this? No. I don't know. We weren't even having sex until a few months ago so it wasn't an issue. How do you bring up not wanting kids with someone you're not even in the position to possibly make them with?"

"But you wanted to."

"Have kids with her?"

"No, be in a position to possibly make them with her."

"Well, sure. I did ten years ago, too. I'm not a moron. She does it for me. She always has. I was just too chicken to actually do anything about it back then. I mean, I could've gone to Paris with her and said fuck it that was fun when we got home, but I didn't want to do that."

"I don't blame you. I told you that then, too. I admit I thought you were a little crazy for flying to Paris with someone you really barely knew and hadn't even seen for more than an hour or two since high school."

"Oh, I thought I was crazy, too, but who was I to say no to that falling into my lap. If I'd said no," he shrugged. "I doubt she would've said yes to a date."

"I suppose not, especially since she would've had to go to the wedding without you and explain that to her friends."

"I know," he said. She was the only one who knew the truth. He couldn't get away with lying to her because she knew he didn't have a girlfriend before their trip.

"I guess it worked out, though, even if I miss you and Sammy," she said.

"It's not like we're never here."

"Yes, it is. That's fine. I'm not complaining. I miss running with him."

"Well, you have my number there. I have to come here anyway to work and get mail. There's nothing saying I can't stay for a while when you want to take him for a run. You can call me to tell me what time you had in mind running." He'd given her his number at Claire's in case any packages or anything got delivered for him. Mail was generally not important, but packages could be time sensitive.

"Oh, I don't want to bother you, especially when you guys are going through something."

"It's not a bother and she wouldn't mind if you think that. It's not as if she doesn't know you so you'd be a random woman calling me asking me to come home."

"Well, true. Maybe I will sometime when you stop coming here during the week. I'm glad she's okay with it."

"Me, too. I don't have many girl friends. I'm not sure how I'd handle having to choose especially since I'd have to see you since we're neighbors."

"Have you and Sammy been enjoying her pool?"

John chuckled a bit at that.

"Yes. We both have. It's not as much fun knowing she can't swim with us, but he loves it more when I go in with him. I try to during the day when she's at work so she doesn't feel as if she's missing out too much."

"I bet it's not so fun for her to watch. How's her arm?"

"Fine. She hates the cast. You know, it's hot and itchy."

"How much longer?"

"Three to four weeks I think. They said six to eight weeks."

"Any plans tonight?"

"No. The usual staying home stuff. I'm making dinner. I've cooked more the past few weeks than I think I have in a long time on a regular basis."

"Is it edible?"

He laughed softly. "Most of it."

"Has she brought up a baby again?"

"No," he said. She'd probably be mad he talked to Jessica about this stuff, but he had to talk to someone. He couldn't talk to her about it. Like he'd realized when he was talking to Rich that would just be inconsiderate talking to Claire about it.

"Is that good or bad?"

"I'm fine with it for now. More than fine. I mean. I'm in no hurry or anything."

"You'd sell this place, wouldn't you?"

He shrugged. He'd thought about that when he'd brought up living arrangements with her. She had a house. He hadn't bought a house because he hadn't needed a house. Certainly, though, if they were talking about kids a house would be more practical. Kids needed space. His condo while decent sized wasn't really what he pictured when he saw a family. People did it, sure, but it just seemed super cramped to him having no basement or yard right out your door. Kids needed space, room for toys and things.

Kids.

A house.

Both things he swore he wouldn't do. Be responsible for something he couldn't take care of. He'd watched the house he grew up in turn to shit because neither of his parents cared after a while. He didn't want to repeat their mistakes. Yet, fuck if the idea of letting her go sat well with him. So he didn't see himself having a choice. He just hoped he got a little more time before she brought the kid thing up again. He didn't think he had it in him to say no to her, which she probably knew.

"Probably. Not that we've talked about it, but it would make more sense. A house is better with kids. I've always thought so anyway. She basically had it built for her and there's a grade school right down the street. I'm not real attached to this place or anything. It just beats paying a landlord to get richer. I mean, I'm still giving someone my money but at least it's earning me credit and stuff."

"I know."

"I'm not going anywhere tomorrow or anything."

"It was just nice not being the only single person in our building."

Ah. Yeah. The two of them were the only non-attached people in their building. Not in their complex, but the rest of their building was occupied by couples or families. It was one of the reasons they'd become friendly in the first place. Sammy had helped. Actually, Sammy was the reason they'd started talking to begin with. Then she found out he boarded him when he had to go out of town and she'd volunteered to pet sit. She charged less than the boarding place did. John suspected she liked the company but didn't want to get a dog herself full-time. He had no idea why she was single. She was attractive, smart, had a good job, and was really pretty nice. She'd been married once before, but she never revealed more than that bit of information so he had no clue if she'd gotten burned real bad or what.

She'd been on her way to work when he got there so they didn't talk real long. He'd never had a female friend like her before. He wasn't sure if it was because she was older than he was, but there'd never been an awkwardness between them that always seemed to be there with other women he knew. Usually there was an underlying flirtation or uncertainty about intentions that just couldn't be prevented when friends with someone of the opposite sex.

He opened the windows letting some air in. He hadn't been here since Friday so it was pretty stuffy from being warm over the weekend. No sense running the air when he wasn't even here to need it cool. He opened the screened door that led to his balcony so Sammy could go out there if he wanted to. Sometimes he liked to lounge out there.

He didn't plan on being here real long, but almost felt as if he had to spend time here. He wasn't sure what that said exactly, but he hadn't come here over a weekend since she'd gotten out of the hospital.

He was surprised when his phone rang. It was pretty early for most anyone to be calling him. It was still before seven for Rich and while he wasn't a slacker he didn't usually call John this early in the day. He wouldn't know that John was adjusting his sleeping and working schedule to fit better around Claire's so he was awake when people were normally more often than not these days.

"This is John," he said.

'John? I was almost expecting to get your voice mail.' John recognized the voice immediately. He didn't know very many heavily accented Frenchman. He actually knew only one, and he had to admit he liked the way the Frenchman said his name. It made it sound much more exotic than plain-old John.

"This early in the morning it's a fair expectation. I just happen to be up and moving this early today."

'Is your weather well?'

"Uh, yeah, it's nice. You know, June. Yours?"

'Nice as well. And work?'

"It's going well. Keeping busy."

'Busy is good, yes?'

"I like to think so. It keeps the bill collectors at bay anyway. How are things by you?"

'Good. Busy as well.'

"Aren't you working on something?" John thought he remembered Rene mentioning not much of a break after the Simon Forge movie opened.

'I am, yes. That is why I am up so early.'

"Ah," John said. "Is there something I can help you with? I mean, not that I don't appreciate the call…"

'Well, I was hoping you could tell me if everything is all right with Claire.'

"Claire?" he asked.

'Yes. She hasn't returned any of April's calls for weeks now. She's becoming a little concerned for her friend.'

"Oh," John said. He had no idea. He really didn't. "How many calls?"

'I'm not certain of the exact number, but it's been more than just a few.'

"Well, I can mention it to her. I really don't know. She hasn't said anything."

'So she is not upset with April? With us? You had a nice time here with us, yes?'

"Yeah, we had a great time. She loved it. I loved it."

'Perhaps you shouldn't say I called. I was really just concerned because it coincided with your trip here. Before that they spoke regularly.'

Yeah, he supposed it did. She'd found out she was pregnant and probably would've wanted to tell her best friend the news but John had reacted like a dumb fuck so she hadn't been able to. Her best friend would of course assume John was equally as excited as she was based on the fact they'd been dating close to a year. At least that's how it appeared to everyone else.

"I'll see what I can find out without letting her know you called. Okay? How is April? She's feeling all right?"

'She is. I think she just misses Claire.'

"I know Claire does, too," John said. She did, he knew that. She'd had a great time not just their weekend in California but when Rene and April had been here the weekend before. Like Christopher said she didn't make close friends real easily. John understood it to some degree. It was hard to trust people when someone you trusted violated that trust as severely and violently as Allen had.

'There are some things we men just cannot provide for them, no?'

John chuckled softly at that. "As much as I hate to agree with you, you're right."

'If you find there is something wrong…'

"I'll let you know, Rene, but I'm sure there's not. I'm sure she's meant to call. The time difference can be a bit difficult. When it's a decent time here it's too early there."

'Oh yes, of course. She can call anytime, though.'

"I'll see what I can do. I'm glad you called."

'I don't sound like a, what is the term, busy body?'

"No, you sound like a concerned husband."

'She's hoping Claire will be godmother, which I believe is the reason she's been trying so frequently to get a hold of her.'

"Oh," John said. He wasn't sure how well Claire would react to that. Did she have an idea that's what April was calling about and was avoiding her so she didn't have to answer the question? John really didn't know. "I will definitely see what I can find out then. You have a few months, though, right?"

'Yes. Mid-September.'

"Is there a good number for me to call you back on?"

'Yes, I'll give it to you. I don't always answer, but it's my personal cell number so leave a message and I will call you back.'

"All right," he said, jotting down the number. Man, what some people would pay for this information. It was so fucking weird that he had a direct line to Wren Savage.

'I feel foolish dragging you into this, but if there was a problem I didn't want to seem as if I was confronting Claire.'

"No, it's fine. I honestly wasn't aware she'd been trying to get a hold of her. I know you're concerned for April's sake and everything."

John heard him cover the phone and some muffled talking. He didn't sound too happy whatever the situation was. What the hell could he be doing before seven o'clock in the morning anyway? He supposed movies got made at all different times of the day and night.

'I must go. Take care, John,' he said.

"Yeah, you, too," he said, hanging up.

He had to admit, he wasn't a bad guy. Maybe he was different around people who weren't dating his wife's best friend, but John hadn't found him to be a pompous asshole any of the times he'd been around him.

He turned in his chair to face the window, looking out as he thought over the conversation. Claire hadn't been calling April back. That wasn't good, even John knew that. Was she not dealing with things as well as she seemed to be? He thought she'd been doing all right for the most part. He knew she was feeling a lot of things, but she seemed in general all right. Sometimes she cried, but he assumed that was normal and natural.

He sighed not sure what exactly he was supposed to do. He couldn't make her call April, and he wasn't sure how thrilled she was going to be at the concept of being a godmother to a baby born only a month or two before theirs would have been.

He almost wished he didn't know Rene because then he'd never know. He glanced at his watch not that it was going to help him decide what to do. He wasn't going to call her at work, but he could get there early enough to take her to lunch and maybe mention April to see what she said. He'd been at her house frequently enough he'd notice she hadn't talked to her. She hadn't talked to anyone really that he'd noticed, a little out of the ordinary now that he thought about it. He just hadn't taken the time to notice before and he supposed he should have.

It'd been years since he'd had to look for signs of his parents' emotional ups and downs, but that was totally different. They were unreasonable and under the influence of all sorts of different things. He was out of his element with this.

"All right, Sammy," he said, bringing Sammy inside from the balcony. He was getting spoiled at Claire's being able to go out to her yard whenever he wanted. There were mornings he stayed out in her backyard for two or three hours.

He got to her building a little before eleven, which was early but he'd hung out in her office for a while before when he'd been early so he didn't see a problem with doing that again today.

"Hi John," the receptionist said when he walked through the door.

"Hey, Carly. How are you today?"

"Doing well."

"Good to hear. Is Claire around?"

"She is. Go on back," she said.

"Thanks," he said, going through the door that led to the actual offices area. Few questioned why he was here anymore. He'd come fairly regularly the past month.

"Hey John," Christopher said.

"Hey," he said.

"You here to take Claire to lunch?"

"If she'll have me."

"Try to talk her into having the two of you join us at the Cubs game tomorrow. It's supposed to be eighty degrees."

"The Cubs game?"

"Yeah, she said she didn't think you liked baseball."

"I don't really, but I'd have no problem going to a game. I just don't enjoy sitting at home watching it on TV."

"Well, tell her, maybe you can convince her."

"I'll see what I can do," John said. "You need an answer today?"

"No. I'm coming to work regardless. I'm going to bring Michael with. If you two go you'll be the other two seats, otherwise Dad will go I suppose."

"Oh," John said. "Well, sure I'm game if she is."

"Well, hopefully we'll see you tomorrow again."

"Sure," John said, making his way to Claire's office. Sonia wasn't at her desk so John went to her door, which was open anyway. Her back was to him. She was standing at her bookshelves, paging through a book. Looking something up no doubt. He took the opportunity to take her in. He still couldn't believe they were here, doing this. There were times he was sure he was going to wake up and it was going to be the day after detention, this whole thing a weird dream. He'd never pictured himself loving anyone enough to contemplate marriage and kids. She'd worn her hair down today, which he loved. He loved it any which way, but down just looked extra nice on her.

"Hi," she said softly when she realized he was there.

"Hi," he said, chuckling a little to himself at the light blush on her cheeks from catching him staring at her.

"What are you doing here?"

"I thought I'd take you to lunch."

"I thought you had work to do."

He shrugged. "I can do it after lunch."

"John…"

"I'm current on everything, even a little ahead. I'm good."

"Okay, as long as you're sure."

"I am," he said, closing the distance between them so he could kiss her. "I'm better now," he said when he drew away.

"Me, too," she whispered.

"Yeah?" he asked.

"Yes."

"Good. I like when you're better."

"Is Sammy at the house?"

"No, he's at my place. I went there first."

"Oh," she said.

"I went through my mail and stuff. Fun and exciting."

"So fun and exciting you needed a break I take it?"

"Yes!"

She slid a hand along his arm then.

"Well, I suppose I could break away."

"You sure? I can wait if you were in the middle of something. I mean it's not like I have anything to be back for."

"No, I was just looking something up."

"But you're not in the middle of something?"

"No, I found what I needed."

"Funny, I have, too," he said.

"Yeah?"

"You need me to prove it?"

"Probably not here."

"Well, no I realize here wouldn't work, but you name the place and time and I'll be happy to prove it any which way you need me to prove it."

"Wow. Really?" she asked. There was that blush again, not as light as before either.

"Yes. Really."

"I think," she said, glancing behind him. He sensed somehow they were no longer alone. He liked the blush there just the same.

"Yeah," he said. "Just know the offer is a sincere one."

"I know," she whispered.

"You two going to lunch?" Sonia asked.

"I think so," Claire said.

"You think so? You have a more appealing offer?"

"Well, no," she said.

"Good, then you can explain to me why we're not going to the Cubs game tomorrow."

"Christopher saw you I take it."

"He did."

"I didn't think you'd want to go."

"It's a baseball game not an opera. Three hours on a nice day outdoors with you. I'll do it."

"All right. Then we'll go. If you're sure."

"Positive."

"That means you wouldn't go to an opera with me?"

"That means you'd need to make sitting in a suit for three hours listening to something I don't understand very worth my while."

"Oh," she said.

He chuckled. "Let's go eat."

She actually seemed as if she was in a pretty good mood today. She even tried to tell him about the case she'd been looking something up for. Any time she did it went over his head generally, but he listened because sometimes she just clearly needed to talk about things. He usually got the general idea and she obviously couldn't divulge details, but sometimes he could tell she just wanted someone to listen to her.

"So, I ran into Jessica when I got to my place."

"Oh?"

"Yeah. She finally saw the Simon Forge movie over the weekend," he said. She'd actually seen it the weekend before, but he wasn't quite sure how to bring up April otherwise. The movie seemed like a good opportunity to bring up their trip and therefore April.

"How'd she like it?"

"She liked it a lot. She's not a comics reader so she doesn't know the story or anything."

"So, she's like me, you mean."

"You've read some issues."

"I have," she said. She'd read quite a few actually. He was impressed. He doubted she'd read beyond Simon Forge, but that was okay. He didn't care, just the fact she took an interest in that character's comics was fine with him. She always took an interest in what he was drawing and everything.

"It got me thinking, though. Have we heard from April and Rene since being there? I feel kind of bad because we had a pretty nice time with them and I haven't really been able to tell them that. I suppose you would send them a thank you note or something for their hospitality."

"I'm surprised you know the word hospitality."

He chuckled. "I know, right? Surprised me, too. I had to dig deep in the memory banks for that one."

"And, not really."

"Not really?"

Claire shrugged. "She's called a few times, but I've missed her."

"You haven't called back?"

"Not yet."

"Why not?" he asked.

"I don't know. I don't know what to say to her. She's going to want to talk about being pregnant and I'm just not sure I want to hear about it for an hour or more right now."

"Understandable. Have you thought of telling her that?"

"What do you mean?"

"Well, is there a reason that you wouldn't tell your best friend what you went through?"

"I don't want to make her feel bad!"

"As opposed to not talking to her for going on two months now? She probably thinks we're mad at them or had an awful time or something."

"No, she wouldn't think that."

"Really? Because you've gone two months without talking to her before in ten years?"

"Well, no," she said. "I mean before her wedding we didn't talk at length."

"You still talked, though. I remember teasing you about your lack of information on her groom."

"Yes."

"Maybe it'd be good for you. I don't know. She's your best friend. Don't you think she'd want to know?"

"But she'd probably feel bad."

"She may feel bad. You're right, but right now she's probably wondering why you're not talking to her. That's probably making her feel worse than knowing what's going on. I realize we haven't told anyone, but that doesn't mean we can't. I don't have a reason to tell anyone besides Rich and Jessica. I'm ashamed of my response, but not of the fact you were pregnant. I never will be either no matter what happens between us. You know that, right?"

"I do."

"You have no reason to be either."

"I know," she said.

"I mean it's up to you. I understand why you think it'd make her feel bad and you're right. She probably will, she's your friend so of course she will. And maybe she'd hold back telling you stuff, but at least she'd know to do that. At least you two would be talking. Right? Does she even know you broke your arm?"

"No," Claire admitted.

"Claire," he said cautiously. "You can't shut yourself off from everyone but me and work."

"I'm not. I just," she shrugged. "I don't know. I didn't want to make her feel bad."

"She's your best friend. I don't have one of those, never have really, but I've seen it enough to know she's not going to feel bad. She's going to feel bad that you thought she'd feel bad and didn't tell her."

"Maybe."

"Hey, call her or don't call her, but maybe you'd feel better if someone knew. Maybe it doesn't seem like it really happened to you since no one else knows. I don't know. I'm doing the best I can here. I'm trying, I really am. Jessica asked me today how you are and I said I thought you were all right. I really don't know so maybe my trying isn't good enough."

"You're doing fine."

"You say that, and I want to believe that, but it's because of me she doesn't know any of it and I feel really bad about that."

"It's not because of you. I could have told her."

"You could have, but you would have had to admit that your boyfriend was an asshole. Who'd do that?"

"She may have helped me realize that you weren't reacting completely out of the norm. I mean what guy would want to hear those words who wasn't expecting to hear them."

"Sweetheart, I want to give you better than normal."

"You do."

"I'm glad you think so, but you deserved better than that."

"And I am fine for the most part. I just," she shrugged. "I felt like it happened for a reason. My getting pregnant. What were the odds?"

"Well, I told you after you've had time to think about it and you can to talk to me about trying. Your doctor has to clear you, though. So talking about it until then is sort of pointless."

"You don't really want to."

"I won't deny I'm scared, Claire. I really am. I don't think I'm him. You brought up a valid point about that day and the fact I didn't stick around, but he probably didn't think he was an asshole either."

"You're not."

"I want to believe that, but can you understand why my goal in life wasn't to find out?"

"I can."

"So, am I in a hurry? No, but I'm not going to say no to you. I'd at least like to be living together first, though."

"Aren't we basically doing that anyway?"

"Except we're each paying our own mortgages."

"We are."

"That would need to get fixed I think. I already hate having to go home during the week."

"Then don't."

"My stuff is there. I mean I have the necessities at your place, but that's no way to live. For either of us certainly with a kid thrown in there."

"I'll make room."

"Is this you talking or the hormones talking?"

"It's me talking."

"Let me look into some options."

"Like?" she asked.

"Well, I'm not sure how fast places like mine are selling. I may be better off renting it on a month-to-month thing to someone I know. There are a couple of people who might be interested in doing that that I'd trust not to total the place while living there."

"Okay."

"You realize if we do this I'm not going away, right?"

"What?"

"I said at least living together. I want more than that, but a kid deserves both parents around him every day."

"I agree."

"You still need to think about things like your parents and clients. Like I said, let me look into things and we can talk when we have more time than less than a lunch hour to talk about it. You need to think about those things, though. Your parents would probably be all right, maybe. I don't know. Not thrilled I imagine, but they'd deal with it. Clients, though. I imagine you deal with some people that finding out you're not married and having a kid may not like that so well."

"They're paying me to be their lawyer not for what I do in my personal life."

"No, but they may wonder what kind of lawyer you are if you're promiscuous."

"I'm not!"

"You know that, I know that. Conservative men in their fifties and sixties who I'm guessing account for a good chunk of your clients may not know that. So, we both have things to think about, figure out. I'm in. All I have to figure out is whether I'm going to put my place on the market or rent it out for a while and then put it on the market so someone doesn't move in for a month and then it sells. That wouldn't be fair. No one I work with is going to care where I live, who I live with, or if we have twenty kids together without being married."

"I think twenty at our age is a little ambitious."

"Sweetheart, I think I'd have a lot of fun trying to make twenty of them with you."

"Me, too," she said, blushing. He chuckled softly at that.

"So, you think about it, the possible consequences and let me know."

"I don't have to think about it."

"I want you to, though."

"Why are you assuming you'll move into my house?"

He frowned at that. "Why wouldn't I? Are we moving somewhere else?"

"I don't know. Why do you have to give up your condo?"

"Because your house is nicer and kids deserve a house and a yard. It just makes sense."

"I just wondered. You just assumed…"

"Well, sure. Because it makes sense."

"I guess so. It just doesn't seem fair."

"Fair?"

"Yeah."

"Uh, I get you out of the deal. What's not fair about that trade? I mean I'm already mowing the lawn I may as well just complete the yuppie picture and live there."

"Only because I can't!"

"I'm teasing, Princess."

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