***Part One***
Word count: 5,278

Tuesday, February 14, 1984
Chicago, Illinois

"Claire Standish?"

Claire stopped talking to a few of her friends at the mention of her name. It was second period of the day and it was Valentine's Day. They'd been discussing their various plans for the evening. Claire admitted to none, which was something her friends couldn't understand. She dated. She liked guys, quite a bit actually. She just wasn't frivolous about it. Watching her parents fight and drink to forget the fights made her a bit cynical she supposed. There was another reason she admitted to having no plans for the night, though.

Claire tried to act nonchalant about looking toward the door. She knew why her name was being called so it was a little hard for her to do. Someone Claire had never seen before was standing at the entrance to her classroom holding roses in his hand. The Shermer High Student Council sold roses as a fundraiser for the mushy holiday every teenager loved to celebrate (those involved anyway). Red, white, and yellow were the only colors available, but the perk of ordering them through the Student Council was that you could send them anonymously. Lots of secret admirer roses were being delivered at this very moment, she was sure.

The guy was holding two red roses and one white one she noticed. She got an incredibly goofy feeling in the pit of her stomach at the sight of them. He hadn't called anyone else's name in the classroom, so that meant all three of the roses were for her. She felt the heat of a blush on her cheeks as everyone looked first from her to the guy and back to her.

"I'm Claire," she said, standing from her seat.

She tucked some hair behind an ear to try to hide her nervousness. She was excited, but absolutely hadn't expected this. She felt her eyes water a bit at the thought of him stepping up to the Student Council booth to buy the flowers. It was a brave thing to do. The delivery guy had to be a freshman or sophomore, explaining why he wouldn't know who she was.

"Happy Valentine's Day," he said brightly, handing her the roses once she'd reached him at the door.

"Thanks," she said, watching him go before turning to return to her seat.

Every eye was on her because despite her popularity she didn't get roses every day. As far as anyone knew Claire Standish didn't have anyone to get roses from. Guys just didn't randomly send secret admirer gifts to the prom queen. It was sort of an unspoken rule that she was off-limits to such things. She wasn't sure why. How was she supposed to get a boyfriend if no one ever approached her?

"Oh my God, Claire," Monique said when she sat in her seat again. "I knew you were seeing someone! Who is it?"

"Monique," she said, trying to get her face to cooperate with her mind telling it to keep from showing how excited she was.

He'd given her roses.

"They could be from anyone," Claire said.

She pulled out the card, smiling a little at the simply put HAPPY VALENTINE'S DAY there. No signature, of course, he wouldn't risk it. She liked his handwriting. It was very guy-like but despite the persona he liked to give off to people he actually wrote pretty nicely, neatly. Monique was trying to see the card.

"See? No signature or name saying who they're from," she said, letting Monique get a quick glimpse of the card. She didn't let her see too closely just in case she for some bizarre reason would recognize John's handwriting, though he probably printed it out in all capital letters for that reason.

"Come on, Claire. You've been different for the past month or so. I'm not the only who's noticed," Monique said. Most of the others in the class had gone back to what they were doing when it was clear Claire wasn't going to reveal who the roses were from. They probably assumed she didn't know.

She knew her reputation. She'd rather be viewed as the teasing snob most saw her as, someone who thought she was too good for the guys she went to school with here, then a slut or something. She'd dated a few times, but the guys always had getting her out of her panties on their minds. It wasn't even because they wanted to do it with her, but they wanted to do it because it was her. She just had no interest in fooling around. Until recently, she'd wondered if there was actually something wrong with her.

"Different how?" Claire asked.

She tucked the card into the pocket of her notebook. She'd keep it, of course, put it in her desk drawer at home with his other notes he'd given her. He didn't leave them often, but once in a while she'd opened her locker to find an oddly folded up piece of notebook paper at the bottom of her locker. Sometimes he just said hi and sometimes he said more things.

"I don't know. You don't talk on the phone as much to any of us. You do stuff on Friday or Saturday nights no one knows about."

"So that means I'm seeing someone?"

She tapped her pencil on the front of her notebook, hoping to distract Monique away from this conversation. She hadn't thought she was behaving any differently. True, Monique was right, she didn't do things with her friends both nights every weekend like she did before December. She did have a very good reason for that, but it wasn't one she could share with Monique or anyone else she hung out with.

"It makes a few of us suspect."

"Hmm," Claire said, setting her pencil down and picking up the roses.

She couldn't resist sniffing them despite not wanting to in front of anyone. They smelled heavenly. She smiled again at the thought of him filling out the order form. How long had it taken him to do it? Did he leave the booth and come back? She could see him doing that, wondering if she'd get mad he sent her something like this publicly in school.

Getting roses led to questions, and of course she had to be in class with one of the biggest gossips in school when she got the roses. So, it'd be all over by fourth period that Claire had gotten them. She wasn't mad and thought the gossip was worth the roses.

Monique was right, of course, but no one knew about her relationship. She'd met him at a party one night two months ago. They talked for a couple of hours until he had to go. She'd only gotten his first name, she wasn't even sure why he was at the party or whether he went to Shermer High.

He called her the next morning and they'd talked again for hours. That continued throughout Christmas break. It wasn't until after Christmas break that she discovered exactly who she'd been talking to.

John Bender.

It was too late, though, because she already liked him too much to turn back.

Two months. Exactly two months so the flowers were extra special. She still had no idea what he'd been doing at the party that night. She suspected it was to drop pot off to someone there, but he'd never admit to that even though everyone knew he did it.

She still couldn't believe she was dating him. She expected him to tell her to get lost when she said she wanted to wait to tell people anything about them being together. It wasn't that she was ashamed, she was just being cautious. She was so close to graduation, she didn't want people focusing on her any more than they already were and a boyfriend would bring attention to her.

Oddly, he seemed to be as concerned about his reputation as she was. Concerned was maybe the wrong word. They weren't hiding completely. They went out for pizza, met at Dunkin Donuts a couple of Saturday mornings for coffee and donuts, and saw a couple of movies. Mostly they talked on the phone and met at parks and stuff where they were less likely to run into anyone they knew.

She heard his parents argue, heard them yell at him. She hated those conversations because there was nothing that she could do. He wouldn't let her do anything even if there was something she could do, but it bothered her. She hated hearing the tone in his voice during those conversations. Most of the time he was nice to talk to, bringing up different topics just as she did. Those nights, though, he was always so quiet.

"Maybe," Claire said slyly, setting the roses down again. She'd get in trouble if she kept playing with them and Mr. Mercer would take them away.

"Just promise me when you're ready to talk I'll be the one you give the details to," Monique said.

"Monique, really. They're just roses. There aren't any details," Claire said. As if she'd divulge them to Monique anyway.

"Then you're doing it wrong," her friend said snidely.

"And yet, I got roses and you have none."

It was a truly bitchy thing to say, but she hated people talking about fooling around and sex as if you weren't normal if you weren't doing it. Claire wasn't a prude or frigid, she just hadn't met the right guy. Until now. For the first time ever she got the appeal, though they hadn't taken their relationship to that level yet. She sure thought about it, though. She'd even started taking hold of his hand first when they were out somewhere the past couple of dates.

Monique didn't say a word the rest of class. Claire doubted she was thinking too hard on what Claire had said, she was just mad Claire had said it. Monique wasn't one of the girls she knew who slept with anyone who said nice things to her but she wasn't shy about sleeping with someone she'd been dating after only a couple of weeks.

John was conveniently outside her classroom when the bell rang. She couldn't hide her smile as their eyes met. He looked nice, almost as if he'd dressed for the day to be special on top of her getting the flowers. He tilted his head a bit as he regarded her, checked her out was more like it. She gave a slight wave in his direction.

'Thank you,' she mouthed, knowing she was blushing again. She couldn't find it in her to care, though. He'd done something very sweet and romantic. She was allowed to be excited over that. Wasn't she?

He nodded, eyeing the roses almost curiously as if being sure what he'd bought had been delivered before turning to go to his next class. She watched as he strode down the hall. Cocky. Sure of himself. Way more confident appearing than he actually was she knew now.

Saturday, March 24, 1984

"Were you really disgusted about what I did with my lipstick?"



"No," he said.

"Good," she said.

"Do you think they bought our act?" he asked.

"I almost did so I'm sure. I would've if I was them."

"Sorry about the bitch comment."

"It's okay, it fit the conversation," Claire said.

She couldn't deny it bothered her a little, but she knew why he said it. She couldn’t deny some of the tears she shed were pretty real. He’d said some pretty horrible things to her.

"I sort of forget I shouldn't know about your mother."

She stepped into his arms, not wanting to talk about it anymore. They hugged real well by now and despite the scars and marks on them she felt safe in his arms. She wanted to forget this whole day happened. Well, most of it anyway. They'd talked last night on the phone about what they were going to do if there was anyone at detention with them. They hadn't agreed to argue as they had, but they'd agreed to pretend they didn't know one another.

"It would be nice to forget about both our parents, wouldn't it?"

He was quiet for a few minutes, thinking that comment over probably. He had way more to forget than she did, she knew that. She doubted he'd ever be able to forget. She, on the other hand, once she got away hoped she could put her parents miserable marriage out of her mind.

"Just promise me one thing," he whispered against the top of her head.

"I can try. What?"

"You're not going to prom with Andy, are you?"

She gave a soft giggle. "No," she said.

"That's good," he said. "I'm not sure I could stomach you dancing with him. He was not hiding the fact he wanted you to go to Stubby's party with him."

"I won't be dancing with Andy, don't worry."

"Good to know."

"Besides I think he is going to ask someone else after today anyway."


"Mm hmm," she said, resting her head against his chest.

"At least something decent came out of today then, I guess."

"She's still bizarre."

"And dating each other for over three months without telling anyone isn't? Hell, we just argued in front of them so they wouldn't know."

"I know. You're right. You don't want anyone to know yet either I thought."

"I don't want my parents to find out, no. I just don't want them to find out I have a future, plans outside of their house. Anyone else, I don't care but I know that if people find out the odds are they'll find out."

"I get it. It's just too long."

"It's only a couple more months until graduation, Claire. It'll go by fast. I promise."

"Then you're leaving. I won't see you for months."

"Yeah, I'm leaving only to find a job and a place to live. Somewhere suitable for my girlfriend to visit me. Besides, you'll be busy."

"I still can't believe we're doing this."

"It's not like we're eloping or anything, Claire."

"I know," she said.

"You're keeping your dorm room and everything. I was going to move out anyway. I'm just moving a little further away than I'd originally thought."

"I know."

"I'm kind of looking forward to it," he said.

"Me, too," she admitted. More than she probably dared tell him really for fear of scaring the crap out of him. He'd never had a serious girlfriend before, he told her that, so the last thing she wanted to do was make him think she expected anything from him.

He slid a finger under her chin, tilting her face up a bit.

"You never told me that you're a virgin."

She rolled her eyes. Oh God, he would want to talk about that. And here she'd thought he was going to kiss her.

"You're bringing that up now?"

"Uh yeah, Babe. It's something to talk about, don't you think?"


"Why? I'm moving across the country for you," he said.

"You were moving anyway! And you're going to change your mind because I'm a virgin?"

"I didn't say that," he shrugged and she wondered what he was thinking. Maybe her being a virgin was enough to scare him away. "I'm just wondering what I'm signing up for."

"What do you mean?"

"Well, are you like waiting for marriage?"

"And if I said I was?"

"Well, then at least I'd know to expect a lot of cold showers over the next few years."

"You'd still move out there?"

"Yes, I told you, I had no solid plans other than getting the fuck out of my house."

"But you don't believe in one girl and one guy," she said, watching him for some sign that he'd really meant what he said about that. It would change everything, because she certainly wasn't going to have sex with someone who was going to go out and have sex with someone else the next day.

"Oh come on. You excuse me calling you a bitch, but something I said in case anyone was listening to us is what you focus on and take issue with?"

"You sounded kind of sincere."

"Until December 14 that was how I felt. Anyone who knows me or about me wouldn't have believed me if I answered differently."

"I'm not really waiting for marriage. Just something," she shrugged. "I don't know what. More permanent than some guy I won't see again after June."

"You'll see me after June."

"I know," she said. She wondered how long that would last. Would he get frustrated without sex and leave eventually? She certainly wasn't going to give in and have sex just to keep him there, but it did make her wonder.

"By the way, those pictures. The ones in your wallet," she said.


"Once you’ve moved?"


"I want them gone."

"That can be done under one condition."


"I get one dance with you on prom night."

"John," she said. That was impossible. Well, not impossible. Prom was the weekend before graduation so by then it wouldn't really matter who saw them, but there was no way he would buy a ticket for just one dance with her.

"I didn't say at prom. I know it's too public and I don't want to get in a fight and risk not being able to graduate because I loathe the sight of you dancing with some other guy. Trust me; I don't want to be around all those people anyway."

"Then where?"

"I'll work it out, but when you do your hair," he said, running his fingers through her hair a bit.

"When you shimmy into that fancy dress," he said, sliding his other hand to her hip and upper thigh. Her eyes fell closed at the touch, even through the fabric of her skirt she could feel the warmth of his hands, how strong he was.

"And when you put that lipstick on," he said, kissing her. "I want you to do those things for me. Because you'll be seeing me, even if it's only for ten minutes."

"Okay," she said breathlessly.

"Yeah?" he said, kissing her jaw.


He drew away a little, smirking a bit at her.

"I only keep them in there so no one thinks anything's different."

"I know that, I do. I just hated seeing them today, pretending I'm nothing to you."

"Yeah, well, I'm not going to prom with one of them. And you're more than a picture in my wallet anyway."

"I have to go, John."

"I know, Babe. You never answered my question, you know."

"What are you doing tonight?" she asked instead of answering him.

"Nothing. You know, the usual," he shrugged.

"Want to come out with me?"

"I could," he said and she could tell that he was going to bring up his question again.

"I'll trade my skirt in for a pair of Calvin's," she said, surprising him she could tell. She surprised herself honestly.

"But it's not a school night," he said, smirking a bit.

"We're at school today, aren't we?"


"Well then it's a school night in my book."

"That's splitting hairs, don't you think?"

"Those things you said."

"I said a lot of things."

"When you were asking me if I was going to have a white wedding."

"Oh," he said with a slight nod. "What about them?"

"You think about doing those things to me?"

"Are you nuts?"

"What do you mean?"

"I've thought about it since the night we met."


"Yes," he breathed, finding her ear. "When we talk late at night when both our parents' are asleep or passed out?"


"I get so hard when you talk so softly to me, almost as if you're whispering into my ear like I'm doing to you right now."


"And?" he drew away a bit. "What more do you want me to say? It turns me on. I've jerked off more than once to thoughts of you whispering not so nice things into my ear. And now," he shook his head slightly exhaling a bit.

"What now?"

He slid a hand to the front of her skirt, pressing a fingertip over her nub. She gasped softly.

"Now, I have an image of your panties to add to the mix."

"They're just underwear."

"They're yours," he said, pressing his finger against her nub a little harder and her breath hitched in response.

"You like that?"

"Uh huh," she managed to respond.

"Good, I want you to like what I do to you."

"Is that a yes for tonight?"

"I thought you were going to Stubby's party."

She rolled her eyes. "If you paid attention at all you would have heard that I said I didn't know."

He drew away, taking his hand from in front of her skirt in the process. She wasn't happy about that turn of events at all. He chuckled softly and she knew she was busted.

"I'll go out with you tonight, but not for that."

"What? But you just asked me if I was waiting for marriage."

"Well, yeah, I just wondered where your mind was on the subject."

"So, you don't want to have sex with me?"

He chuckled. "I do, Babe, very much."

"Then why?"

"Because in five months I'll have an apartment and you'll be down there with me at college and I can have you the way it should be."

"Should be?"

"Yeah, on a bed with no curfew or parents due home any minute."

"Something you have lots of experience with no doubt."

"Not as much as you might like to believe."

"I don't like to believe any of it."

He chuckled. "Yeah, well, it's too late for that."

"I know."

"I'm very glad you want to."

"Apparently not that glad," she murmured. "Why do you do that? Get me to think about or admit something and then make me feel like such an idiot."

"Why do you feel like an idiot?"

"I just threw myself at you, offered you my virginity, and you said no."

He stepped toward her again, sliding a hand along her cheek.

"It's only been three months, Babe. I didn't say no." he took her hand, laced his fingers through hers before setting their joined hands against the front of his pants. "My dick is very much saying yes."

"Then why?"

"Because a chick like you, I'm not going to even chance you thinking 'is that all there is?' when I'm done. I get one chance to make sure you don't regret inviting me down there with you and that you want to come back to me for more."

"I wouldn't."

"You deserve better than the backseat of your car."

"The others didn't?"

He drew their hands away, bringing them to his lips so he could kiss her hand.

"They aren't you, Babe. Not even close. And why do you do that? Bring up other chicks? You'd rather I be like Brian and probably not even be able to find my dick let alone know what to do with it?"

She gave a soft giggle at that imagery. "I'm sure he knows how to find it."

"I don't know. My doobage in his pants is probably the most action that part of him has ever seen."

"How much money have you saved up?" she asked after a few minutes of them both probably picturing Brian doing anything with a girl.

"Enough to pay for a room at a local roach motel until I find a job and a place to live."

"I hate you have to do that alone."

"I've always been alone."

"Not anymore."

"Until now," he agreed. "At least you picked a warm state to go to college in. I should be able to get a roofing, construction, or landscaping job down in Florida that'll be year-round."

"I know."

He sighed softly and she wondered what he was thinking. He'd never tell her, not unless he wanted to. He was secretive in some ways that bothered her because she knew he was much, much smarter than he let on to anyone at school. She wondered if his friends, the people he hung out with, knew he was smart. She had no doubt while he didn't know how to pronounce Moliere's name he was probably familiar with some of his works. He wouldn't admit to doing assigned reading for classes, but she bet he'd read everything.

"You know, I don't expect it the second you're down there."

"I know. I do, I just," she said. "I don't know."

"I mean, we haven't even completed first base and you're offering to let me into your pants. As nice as your Calvin's would look off of you versus on you I don't want you rushed. We have plenty of time to get it all right and get there eventually."

"Thank you," she whispered and she was glad he knew she was relieved he'd said no.

"Just know the want is always here. And if you change your mind about your living arrangements you let me know."

"I can't live with you right away."

"One day, though?"

"I thought that was the plan."

The plan wasn't set in stone, they both knew that. He was going to move down there after graduation in June to find a job and an apartment. He was going to try to find one close enough to campus that she could walk or bike there. She'd be down there at the end of August with no intention of coming back to Shermer, Illinois other than to visit once she was down there. She planned on staying with him next summer and he'd mentioned if that worked they'd talk about making things permanent. She wasn't out to get married tomorrow or anything and knew her parents would positively flip out if they knew she was planning on living with someone. It was weird to think, though, that if living together did work they could be married one day soon.

"Just making sure today didn't change anything."

"I told you I understood."

"Yeah, you say that now. That's another reason I'll be keeping it in my pants tonight. I don't want you waking up tomorrow regretting anything."

She closed the distance between them, kissing him. He was probably right, there was no telling how she'd feel after she'd had time to think on the whole day. She wouldn't hate him, though, or break up with him. She knew that. He was John, being in a relationship with him meant accepting all aspects of him including the rougher ones that weren't always so nice. He'd never been so bitterly mean to her before today, but there'd been times after a particular rough incident with his dad that he'd been an asshole to her.

He was everything she should run away from. The night they'd met she'd had no clue who he was. She'd heard his name, but as someone who wasn't a burnout she had no face to go with the name.

He'd shown her his true self that night. No doubt enjoying having a conversation with someone who wasn't prejudging him, and talking to someone as he really could not what was expected of him. She wished more people saw the John she did.

The John who got eight detentions in one day, people knew him well.

She couldn't wait until they were in Florida together. No reputations. No parents. No friends to judge.

She'd mentioned him moving with her as a joke. They were supposed to have dinner together on Valentine's Day. Their plans changed when his parents came home drunk and in bad moods. His mother saw him dressed up nicely and went into a rage. She got nothing for the romantic holiday from John's dad; evidently John couldn't do anything for someone he wanted to do nice things for.

He'd called her hours later, more apologetic and sincere than he'd ever been she was fairly certain. She'd hung up on him at first; completely humiliated at being stood up and taking the roses to mean he actually thought she was special. She should have known better!

He'd called back, though, giving her a few minutes to calm down and she'd picked up the phone. If he'd called back immediately she would have picked it up and slammed the receiver in his ear.

Once she'd gotten done being pissed off at him for standing her up they'd talked about his situation. They'd hatched their plan of him coming to Florida with her in the fall. She'd been surprised a few days later when he mentioned it again as if he was seriously going to do it. At the time she just assumed it was a nice dream, something to think of to get him through a bad night at home when he would have rather been out with her.

And now here they were with him talking about moving down there as soon as school was done to find a job and a place to live. A place to live that could accommodate her next summer if need be. Strange how things worked.

"I'm sorry if I frustrate you," she whispered.

"You don't, Claire. I mean, not in a bad way. I don't know it's new to me this thing we're doing. And the waiting? It's never been an issue before now, but I know rushing into something isn't what either of us need right now. I leave in just under three months. If we have sex and I leave you're going to wonder about what I'm doing down there."

"I'm going to wonder anyway."

He chuckled. "Yeah, I know, especially because I doubt I'll get a phone right away so it'll be collect calls until you get down there."

"I'll buy you a phone calling card."


"No, I will. That way we can talk and I'll turn my answering machine to six rings so if I don’t answer by five you can hang up and not be charged any minutes on the card."

"You've got it all figured it out."

"My brother used one when he spent a summer in Minnesota fishing. By the time he came back home he was pretty broke so that phone card was a life saver."

"I just hate you spending money on me."

"I know, but that's the thing about being your girlfriend, I can do those things."

"It'll take some adjustment to my way of thinking on that."

"My doing things for you?"


She leaned in and kissed his neck again. She lingered a bit there, taking in the scent of him. He smelled like laundry soap (he did his own laundry or it'd never get done), Zest soap, and some sort of cologne she couldn't name.

"We have an hour before we have to be out there. Let's do something besides talk from now until then."

"Yeah?" he asked. He sounded a little surprised by that idea. She was sure he was because she wasn't real good at initiating anything between them beyond holding his hand. She just wasn't comfortable enough.

"Yes," she whispered, closing her mouth over his neck, showing him she had no intention of talking again until she had to.

"I don't know, Babe, I think there's a Bulls game on later tonight we could talk about," he said, chuckling softly when she bit the skin at his neck in response.

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