***Chapter Twenty-Three***
Word Count: 2,870

July 1995

Claire knew John was fighting the urge to go to his now empty condo and hide out for the next week. He still had electricity, water, gas, and everything so he could bring a sleeping bag and Sammy and camp out there for the week. He probably thought Claire or April would never notice his absence. She'd notice, though. He hadn't spent a night at his condo since the night she'd been in the hospital.

It had taken Claire a week or so after he'd suggested it for her to call April but she finally did. John had a long conference call he had to be a part of and felt more comfortable at his condo where he had his computer and everything so she'd taken the opportunity while he was gone to call her friend.

This weekend was a result of that phone call. Rene was out of the country filming so April decided to come spend the weekend leading up to the July Fourth holiday with Claire and John.

Was Claire nervous? Incredibly so. She wasn't sure how she was going to react seeing April obviously pregnant. She was happy for her friend, though, and well she was coming to terms with the fact she'd have her chance when she was supposed to.

Her doctor had cleared her to have sex a few weeks ago but she hadn't told John that yet. She wasn't sure why. Nerves. Guilt. Uncertainty because he'd told her it was up to her whether she went back on the pill. He was fine with her decision either way once he was moved in here. She probably would have been able to before her doctor told her it was okay, but with the cast and everything she hadn't really felt like trying. She knew he wouldn't try anything first. That bothered her in some ways, but she understood his reasoning both before losing the baby and after.

While John mowed the lawn and did the pool she'd used her parents' cleaning service to do the inside of her house. He hadn't complained about that especially since he'd spent the last month cleaning his own place in order to put it on the market. If it didn't sell in the next six months he was going to look at renting it out to a friend until it sold.

"Sammy. Come on. Out," she called before closing the door to the bedroom April would be using. She was starting to understand why John didn't want him on her furniture when he started bringing Sammy with him here. He thought he could lay anywhere now. He could, of course, but she'd ensured this room was completely clean yesterday. Somehow she wasn't sure April would appreciate Sammy hairs all over her pillows. He hadn't been in there long, following her in there because she'd bought some flowers to put on the dresser in there.

"You're home early," John said, opening the door to his office.

"I had my physical therapy today."

"Oh, that's right," he said. "I forgot, sorry."

"It's okay. I understand, you've been busy."

He'd pushed a deadline back so that he could get everything moved in here and his condo clean. He'd left some things there, like furniture so the place wasn't empty. The realtor he was using told him empty places didn't sell as easily for some reason. She'd think people would like to see the space, but maybe not. So, he was preoccupied trying to get caught up. She was sure he'd use that to his advantage to stay out of their way as often as he could get away with, too.

"How'd it go?"

"Fine."

"Sore?"

"A little. I imagine I will be more tomorrow."

"Probably so. You have some exercises to do at home?"

"Yes."

"Make sure you do them," he said. "I want your arm as good as before."

"I will."

"And whatever you need me to lift, tell me. I know she probably gave you some weight restrictions for a while."

"Yes. You've done so much already. The yard, the pool, and washing my car."

"Claire. It's fine. We're talking lifting some things that you shouldn't be doing yet not like a car or anything. I don't mind doing those things," he said, taking her into his arms.

"I know," she said, leaning up a bit to kiss him. He really had done more than he needed to do. She felt kind of guilty because a lot of it had been before they'd even talked about him moving in here.

"Have you checked on her flight yet?"

"Yes. So far it's on-time."

"Good. I'm glad she's coming."

"Why?" she asked.

"Why?" he repeated. "What kind of a question is that? She's your best friend. I'm glad you called her, talked to her. I'm glad you've had someone to talk about this stuff, too, because try as I might I just don't feel as if I can give you what you need in that department. Her coming out here means she cares about you. I'm glad that's the case because that means she and I are on the same page there."

"I guess it does. She wouldn't be coming here if Rene was in town."

"This weekend, no, but that doesn't mean she wouldn't have next weekend, the weekend after, or last weekend. It doesn't sound like she has a lot of good friends out there so she wanted to celebrate the holiday with someone she knows and likes."

"I know."

"She's not really kept in touch with your other friend…"

"Tasha."

"Right. She hasn't, has she? I didn't meet her when we were there in March so I assume not."

"Not really. I mean, they do, but you know, April's where she is and Tasha is still working two and three jobs so I think there's some jealousy there."

"Understandable. I encounter that sort of thing, too, especially that I can do what I do from my house."

"I bet you do."

"I still have people who don't believe I just walked up to Rich the way I did. Rich still doesn't believe it some days."

"I believe it."

"You do?"

"Yes. I believe if you thought you were good enough to get his attention you'd do something like that. The John I saw wouldn't have had a problem doing that. I know others might be surprised, but not me. You had nothing to lose."

"No, just the fee it cost me to get in there."

"How'd you come up with it?"

"You don't want to know."

"I'm sorry you didn't feel you could've asked me."

"I wasn't going to ask you for money!"

"Well, maybe I would've gone with you."

"Maybe, I didn't see that happening then."

"I go with you now."

"Yeah, because you're sleeping with me. That's part of the deal."

"Is it?"

"Yeah. I mean, I can't really return the favor, but if I could I'd do it. You know that?"

"I know."

"I mean, the next time you're in court, let me know and I'll be there to watch you or whatever."

"I know."

"It's not quite the same."

"Not really, but I know you'd be there."

"Did you ask her about swimming?"

"I did. She said it should be fine."

"How long until April gets here?"

"Over an hour at least before her flight lands never mind getting her luggage and getting here."

"Want to go now?"

"Where?" she asked, confused.

He chuckled softly, kissing her.

"Swimming."

"Now?"

"Yeah," he said, sliding his arms around her and bringing her closer to him. "You've been watching me for the past two months. I thought it'd be kind of fun."

"I know. I should…"

"You've done everything you need to do. Her room's clean. The grocery shopping is done." He slid his mouth to her neck, kissing her there before finding her ear. "Come swimming with me," he whispered.

"John," she said.

"Come on. I've been working all day…"

"I'm surprised you didn't save it for after she got here."

"Why?" he asked.

"So you could hide in there."

"I like her. Now, tomorrow when your other friends are here you will find I have more work to do."

"I bet you will," she said. "I don't even know where my suit is."

"So? You don't need one."

"John, I can't…"

"You can. Your yard is fenced in. No one's going to see except me."

"Are you serious?"

"Very," he said, sliding his mouth to her throat to kiss her there. "Come on…"

"I swear to God if you laugh at me."

"Laugh at you? Why would I laugh at you?"

"I don't know."

"Jesus, Claire. Where the fuck did that come from? I mean, I know it's been a while since I've seen you naked, but I've never laughed."

"Yeah, well, not outside."

"I'm not going to laugh at you."

He slid his arms out from around her, moving them to the front of her blouse. He worked the buttons open and her breath caught slightly when he slid a hand inside of it. He brushed the back of his hand over the tops of her breasts, lower along one of her peaks.

"Don't close your eyes," he whispered.

"Huh?"

"I want you to know there isn't even a hint of laughter when I look at you, Claire."

"I know, I didn't mean it like that. I just," she shrugged. "We've never been outside. We've never really been out of a bedroom. It's always been relatively, you know, dark. I was pregnant…"

"Yeah, you want to get that way again sometime so if you thought I was going to laugh at you for being in that condition when you weren't even showing yet I'd be pretty pissed off at you for wanting me to be the guy doing that with you."

"I wouldn't want any other guy doing that with me."

He chuckled. "Now I'm laughing, but not at you."

"I know," she whispered.

"I'm laughing because I got a little crazily excited at you saying that."

"Only a little?"

"Oh," he said, sliding his hands behind her to work the clasp on her bra. "I think it might be other things contributing to the bulk of my excitement right now."

"Mine, too," she whispered.

"You intent on wearing this anymore today?" he asked, sliding her blouse over her shoulders.

"I was going to change."

"Good," he said. She worked the buttons at her wrists so he could slide it off.

"That I was going to still wear…"

"Too late," he said, tossing her bra on the floor with her blouse. "I like you better without them."

"I have to wear one!"

"Not right now you don't."

"I suppose," she whispered as he slid his mouth along her neck and lower along her collarbone. He nipped at the skin near there. She groaned when the nip turned into more than that. It'd been too long since he'd done even this. She knew why, but God she'd missed it. And his hands felt absolutely amazing touching her the way he was right now. They always felt so good around her, warm and protective which was probably a weird thought to have when he was touching her this way. She did, though. She always felt safe with him.

He slid his hands lower, drawing away from the spot on her neck he'd been focusing on as he found the zipper to her skirt and slid it down. He helped her slide out of it before taking a peak into his mouth. She slid her hands to his head, running her fingers through his hair as he worked his tongue over her there. He knew exactly what to do, too, to bring her so close to finishing just from his doing that.

As if he knew she was that close he slid her panties lower and slid a hand between her legs. She cried out as a fingertip circled her nub. He darted his tongue lower along her stomach, circling her belly button before finding her nub. He slid an arm around her seeming to realize she wasn't sure she could trust herself to stay standing with him doing this so freaking well. She finished almost as soon as he did that, but he didn't stop for a while after that. He kissed her hip before drawing away and standing, offering her his hand which she took so he could lead them to their room.

Their room.

It was so weird to think of it that way.

They had a bedroom together. A house together. She had a dog.

He slid his shirt off, working the zipper on his jeans as she got into bed.

"Please tell me we can do this," he said, sounding very much as if he wasn't certain he could stop now even if she'd said they couldn't.

"We can," she said.

"And you're sure you want to?"

"Do I seem unsure?"

"God I'm happy to hear you say that. Cold showers are not nearly as effective or fun."

"I know, I'm sorry…"

"Don't," he said, joining her on the bed.

"Yes," she hissed as he slid inside of her.

He snorted softly at that. "I was going to say fuck yes, but yes works just as well."

"Too long," she groaned at the feeling of him thrusting inside of her again.

"I think a day is too long."

"God, me too. How did I become like that?"

"I'm just that irresistible?"

She scoffed, kissing his shoulder and then his neck as she brought her legs around him as high as she could, arching into him so he slid deeper into her.

"You sure?" he asked.

"God, yes," she cried out afraid he'd stop. She didn't want that. Not at all. She needed him in her just like this, deep and as full as he could make her feel. She found his ear, kissing it.

"Love you," she whispered before capturing his mouth. She knew he'd show her very well that he loved her, too.

"All that to get out of going skinny dipping in your own pool?"

"All that? I didn't do any of it! You started it with your hands and the touching me."

"Yeah, because you're beautiful and you're you and I love you. You said this ridiculous thing about my laughing at you. I had to prove you wrong. Plus, you know, you were standing there without that stupid cast on for a change."

She laughed softly, kissing his shoulder. She was still getting her mind wrapped around the fact he'd done that without knowing she wanted to, too. She wasn't sure what it meant that she wanted him to again.

"Maybe next weekend?"

"Yeah?" he asked.

"Yes."

"I can wait a week, I guess."

"You guess?"

"Well, if you won't go, there's a neighbor down the street who I might be able to convince when you're at work…"

"Don't even joke about that."

"I don't know that I'm joking. She's pretty cute. Legal I think."

"I am legal and I'm more than pretty cute."

"Fuck right you are. I'd never settle for just pretty cute anyway."

She scoffed at that, snuggling against him. She slid a foot along his calf as he ran a hand along her hip. Even without her cast he positioned them so she wasn't laying on that arm.

"Frame of reference?" he asked later when they got ready to take a shower so they could both be ready for April to get here. (She would never again take for granted a simple thing like taking a shower after weeks of having a cast to deal with.) They were going to be cutting it pretty close, but she couldn't say no to him when he'd wanted to again. It had excited her to no end that he'd started touching her first with sex obviously as his goal. He'd apparently noticed, too, because he'd commented on it.

"Yes?"

"Was that an attempt?"

"The timing is a little off, so not really. I mean, I guess technically," she admitted, hoping he wouldn't get mad that she'd given that answer. He'd said it was up to her. She wasn't entirely sure she was ready to find out getting pregnant wasn't always as easy as it had been for her twice now. Her doctor had warned her that may be the case.

"So, no pills?"

"No pills."

"Okay," he said simply.

"That's okay?"

"Did I answer like I wasn't okay with it?"

"No, just making sure."

"It would've been my fault for asking after the fact anyway. So if I wasn't okay and it happened it'd be my own fault. I'm okay, though. I've told you my fears, you understand the basis for them."

She couldn't exactly argue with that reasoning.

"I do," she agreed.

"A little off though?"

"Yes."

"I'm not entirely sure what that means. I mean I get the gist, but trust you get more than the gist. So you'll tell me when we're not a little off?"

"I'll try to remember, yes."

"That's all I ask, Princess. Even if it's, you know, afterward."

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