July 3, 1984 (W)
"John," Brady called from up front. He was in the back, facing some bottles on the shelves because they'd been slammed tonight and they were expecting it to be as busy if not busier tomorrow. They never had time to do shit like this in the morning upon opening, so it was one of the things he – with a cast on his arm – was able to do with one arm. Well, one arm and the fingertips of his other one. Brady would be the one responsible for sweeping and mopping. He was a pretty decent guy as far as John could tell. He was by far John's favorite person to work with.
"Yeah," he said. He'd heard the bells ringing, but only once so he didn't think Brady was overwhelmed by one customer. He was prepared for Brady to ask him – again – how John rated the night off tomorrow. He had no idea how that'd happened except he usually got two of the nights off Tuesday through Thursday.
"Listen, I'm not switching with you," John said, walking toward the front when Brady didn't answer him.
He stopped walking then and stared, sure he was seeing things. Except the past few weeks when he'd dreamt of her she hadn't been wearing so many clothes so he was awake and everything.
"Fuck are you a sight for sore eyes," he said, unable to keep his thoughts to himself on the subject. She was … gorgeous. Absolutely fucking gorgeous and it had bothered him more than he wanted to admit that he might have lost her because of her friends. She wasn't wearing anything glamorous, but as always with her it looked perfect on her, right down to the Keds she had on dyed to match her skirt.
"Are you going to keep standing there and staring at me?"
"I'm still not sure I'm awake and this isn't a dream."
"Come kiss me and find out."
He didn't have to be told twice. She looked nice. Way nicer than he looked, but she wasn't at work and it was a pretty basic job so he didn't dress to impress coming here. He closed the distance between them, sliding his bad arm around her waist as best as he could to draw her toward him. He groaned softly, reaching with his good hand to touch her hair, running a thumb along her jaw and to her ear.
"What are you doing here?" he asked when they finally had to stop kissing and breathe. "I mean, don't get me wrong I'm fucking glad to see you, but why are you here? And how the fuck did you get here?"
She shrugged, but she didn't move away from him and he was very glad about that. He had the ability to use his thumb for the most part and slid it along her back. The top she wore felt nice and silky.
"Mom and Dad went to New Orleans for the Fourth."
"Okay," he said.
"I didn't want to go so they left me at home."
"I have access to a credit card. What are they going to do? Ground me two months before I leave for college?"
Well, put like that, probably not. She reached up then, sliding a fingertip over his lips. She pulled it away and he saw a bit of lipstick on the tip.
"I don't care about some lipstick right now."
"Well, you do have to go back to work."
"I know. How did you know where to find me?"
"I didn't. I stopped at a gas station by the hotel I checked in at and asked where a drive-thru liquor store was around where you're staying."
"You went there?"
"I drove past it, yeah."
"Good," he said.
"Not getting out of your car there at this time of the night."
"Is it that bad?"
He shrugged, leaning in to kiss her again. He slid his good hand along her throat, around her neck and stroked the nape of her neck there.
"It's pretty bad. I wouldn't want you walking around there by yourself after dark, no."
"Looking like you do, no one would mistake you for a working girl or anything, but I'd rather not risk it."
He glanced outside then, noticing her car was out there.
"Yeah. It wasn't that bad. I left about six this morning."
He glanced at the clock on the wall. It was about twenty minutes to closing time, but she said she'd checked in at a hotel first so she obviously had been in town for a little while.
"I figured it was good practice for when I drive down here in August."
"I guess." He doubted her parents would see it that way, especially if they found out her reason for coming here this month. He'd love to see them realizing that. He chuckled softly. "You had me pretty worried, you know that?"
She looked behind him toward where Brady was standing, John turned to look at him, too.
"He's fine. He'd be doing the same thing if he was me, and we aren't that busy right now."
"I'm sorry. I got your letter and I didn't really know what to say right away." She shrugged.
"Right away? It's been weeks, Claire."
"I know! The time difference isn't huge, but it does make things difficult."
"Yeah, I know," he said, agreeing. It was fairly easy for him. He wasn't going to call her at eight in the morning, her or his time. So calling her at ten or eleven at night wasn't a problem since that'd be nine or ten her time.
"And then Mom and Dad agreed to let me stay home instead of go with them and I thought it'd be kind of fun to surprise you."
"A phone call wouldn't have ruined your surprise."
"I'm here now."
"You are. How long do I have you for?"
"Not nearly long enough. Please tell me you brought clothes that are usable in Florida."
"Yeah, I mean, I guess they wear skirts here, but shorts and a swimsuit."
"Is there a pool at your motel?"
He scoffed at that, sliding his arm to a hip and letting his thumb slide along her skirt there.
"No, but I have tomorrow and Friday off for some reason this week and don't have to be back here until Saturday afternoon. We could hit a beach or something."
"Sure. I brought things."
"I'm glad. I do have to get back to work, though."
"I bet Brady wouldn't mind if you hung out in there until we left. Or were you going to leave now?" She'd mentioned a hotel but then asked about his having a pool so he wasn't sure what she'd have in mind.
"Are you sure?"
"Where else were you planning on going? I guess you drove here, you can go back to your room if that's what you wanted to do. You have to be tired after that drive."
"I figured I'd wait for you in my car or something."
"Nah. You'd sweat to death. Brady won't mind. He's cool and he says he wants to meet you."
"You told him about me?"
"Yeah. He seems all right," John said. He knew Claire would realize that was a pretty ringing endorsement where John was concerned when it came to complimenting anyone.
"You look nice, by the way," he said after he grabbed her hand with his good one.
"Thank you," she said. "You do, too."
"I don't. I mean, thanks, but I look like I've been working all evening and an evening I wasn't expecting to see my girlfriend."
"There's nothing wrong with your job," she said, squeezing his hand.
"I guess. I'd feel a lot better about it if I was roofing."
"Will you be able to soon, do you think?"
"I have to go to get the cast off in three weeks yet. Then they talked about the possibility of physical therapy. I have to hope and pray that my dad didn't think to take me off his policy yet."
"I suppose," she said.
"If I don't have the insurance, I'll see about getting things I can do myself. I mean, it's not like it was shattered in a million pieces or anything."
"So, you wanted to wait here? I mean, I could just meet you in the morning or something…"
"Or you could meet me at my room when you're done. I got an extra key," she said, reaching into her purse and pulling a hotel key out of it.
"You want me to go there?"
"Why does that surprise you?"
"I don't know, it just does."
"I didn't think either of us planned on my spending many nights in my dorm room when I got down here."
"I don't know, Claire. You tell me? I've spent the last month thinking you were mad at me and had broken up with me through osmosis or something."
"I wouldn't do that!"
"So you say. I've never had a girlfriend before to know how it works. You not talking to me seemed a pretty good indication you might not want to see me again."
"Because people picked a fight with you?"
"Your friends picked a fight with me on prom night, ruining your night."
"It's not how I envisioned it going, but it wasn't ruined. Not completely. I still got to dance with you."
"And I got to see you in your tux."
His tux was an ordinary, everyday tuxedo. Her dress had been something else entirely. In his mind she'd been the most beautiful one there that night. That may have been his bias talking, he didn't know. He didn't care either, that's how he saw her and she'd been there with him.
He let go of her hand then, taking the key.
"I don't want you to stay at my place. I'm hoping by September I can afford something better. My job plans sort of got skewed."
"I know," she said. "I'm sorry."
"Brady," John said once they had established he'd go back to her room when he was done working. "This is my girlfriend, Claire. Claire, this is Brady."
"I thought for sure you were lost or asking for another John Bender."
"There's only one of me, thank goodness," John said.
"She going to sit in here while we close up?"
"No." He turned then. "You do know how to get back to your hotel, right?"
"Yes," she said.
"I'm kind of surprised you'd stoop to stay at a Holiday Inn, Babe."
"It is Mom and Dad's credit card. I can justify driving down here to learn the town better before coming down here next month if they see the bill and ask. I can't justify a Hyatt bill to do it."
He chuckled softly at that.
"Is that why you have the next two days off?" Brady asked.
"I'll see you around two?" Claire asked.
"Maybe sooner. I haven't had much incentive to get done sooner than I had to before tonight."
She leaned in and kissed him. "That is incredibly good to hear."
He leaned toward her then, kissing her ear. "You are my incentive, Claire. If I haven't said that to you ever or enough. I never thought I was an awful person or anything, but you make me want to be more than just a not awful person."
"John," she said softly. She was blushing. Why? He didn't haul his ass down to Florida for nothing. He liked the person she brought out in him. He wanted to be a better person with her in his life. Not because of or for her, but because she made him feel good about himself for the first time in his life. She had to know that.
"And I love you, you know that, right?" He'd written it in that letter, knowing he'd said it once before. But writing it down seemed much more official. No take backs or being misunderstood in a letter.
"I do. I love you, too."
"I'll be there as soon as I can."
"I might make you mop the floor tonight, John," Brady said after Claire had left.
"You're a funny guy," John said.
"She is everything you described her to be."
"That good or bad?" John asked. He knew how he saw her, knew what she meant to him, but he wasn't sure others would see her that way.
"Neither," he said with a shrug. "She seems awfully high maintenance."
"Yeah," John said with a scoff. Not easy to miss that about her. From her clothes to her car to her pristinely painted nails (toes, too, he noticed since she was wearing sandals).
"I guess that solves your break-up problem, huh?"
"I guess so."
Brady was like John in some ways, they were both wanting their paychecks to be as large as they could be each week. So when they closed together neither was in a huge hurry to get done any faster than the hour they were allotted to get out of the store. Tonight, though, Brady seemed to understand John had no desire to dawdle and despite being the night before the Fourth of July it hadn't been that busy. Tomorrow during the day they'd likely be slammed, but that wasn't John's concerned since he wasn't scheduled to work.
He stopped at his place to pick up a change of clothes for the next couple of days. He didn't have to work and her room had to be one thousand times better than his so he had no intention of coming back here if he didn't have to. He found her room and held the key out for a second before using it to open the door. He'd hesitated, wondering if he shouldn't knock except she'd given him a key to get in. So his hesitation hadn't lasted very long.
"You made good time," she said, eyeing the bag he held so had to know he'd stopped at home first.
"I did. Funny, you being in the same town as me again for the first time in a month made me want to get the hell out of there."
"So," he said, setting his bag on a chair next to the door.
"Two beds," he said.
"What did you have in mind here, Princess?"
"Have in mind?"
"Yeah. You're here and we're staying in the same room, not sure that's you inviting me to stay in the same bed."
"Do you want the extra bed?"
"Uh, no. I'm not you, though."
"You look tired."
"Funny, so do you."
"Will I give off mixed signals if I say I want you here, but I'm not sure…"
"No," he said quickly. "Did I once pressure you or ask for more to happen after the night of that party?"
"No, but I sort of thought on prom we'd…"
"Yeah, I sort of thought we might, too, but your friends evidently weren't in sync with our way of thinking."
"I feel bad about that."
"No more than I do, trust me."
"I wasn't planning on having sex with you that night. You do know that, right?"
"I meant what I said before. I'd feel much better about us doing that when we we're both down here, knowing what was going on. I was very glad we hadn't the past month or so."
"Well, yeah. I didn't know what was going on without that added into the mix of things."
"I sort of figured after that night that…"
"I won't deny I thought about it. A lot, but it just didn't seem right. If I disappeared to everyone else and anyone knew we had," he shrugged. "I didn't want anyone to think I'd do that to you. Just fuck you and leave."
"I know," she said. "So, as long as it won't lead you to thinking I'm a frigid bitch or anything."
He scoffed. "No, considering I'm the one who's actually said no to you when you offered."
"You did," she said, pretending to be upset about that fact. How did he know she was pretending? She drew the covers back on the bed.
"What do you want to do tomorrow?"
"I don't care. Brady mentioned you have the next two days off."
"I do. He thinks I knew you were coming down here and that's why."
"There's fireworks tomorrow night. You want to go to those?"
"It's going to be busy tomorrow I'm sure anywhere, but we can do whatever you want. You have my undivided attention."
"Undivided, huh?" she said when he joined her in bed.
She'd even settled on the side of the bed opposite his arm with the cast. She settled against him, resting a hand against his chest.
"Yeah, that's another thing stopping me."
"What?" she asked.
He lifted his arm up from the bed a bit. "I don't really want this to be a factor our first time."
"Could we even?"
He chuckled softly at that, kissing the top of her head.
"You must be tired if you're asking me that."
He laughed then. "Why?"
"Yeah, why am I tired?"
"Well, there would be ways around my arm if we were so inclined."
"Oh," she said softly.
"If you want to hear those ways…"
"Afraid you'll hear them and take advantage of me?"
"Me, too, can't you tell?"
"Your a/c actually works," he whispered after a few minutes of them both being quiet.
"It does. Yours doesn't?"
"It has its moments, like ten minutes at a time."
"Oh, God that must be awful."
"I bought a fan, it helps a bit. I try not to keep the lights on or anything I can do to keep the room cooler. Beatrice does seem intent on fixing it, but she also knows I'm not staying there forever so I don't think she'll go too far out of her way to fix it for good."
"The woman who owns where I'm staying."
"Oh. Is she pretty?"
He shrugged. "I wouldn't say that, no, but she's nice enough. Old enough to be my mother at least."
"Oh," she said.
"No," she said.
"No? Why not?"
"Because you wouldn't tell me you love me if I had a reason to be jealous."
How right she was.
"Feels nice," he said.
"What does? The a/c?"
"That and you lying here with me."
"I was afraid once I got here, to the room I mean, that you'd have second thoughts about doing this."
"I know. I promise you I'll be somewhere you can actually come and go from without my worrying you'll get hurt by the time you're down here."
"I'm not worried about it."
"I worry about it."
"It's not like I'd go there without you knowing I was going there."
"True," he said. "I like the idea, though, of you being in there waiting for me when I get home from work."
"Can't do that there. You may not get jealous, but you might hear things that would make you wonder if I've been up to no good the months leading up to you being here."
"I wouldn't think that. I know how much you saying you love me means because it's the same for me. I wouldn't say it, wouldn't really have considered you moving down here if I didn't want to be with you. We'll work it out, John."
"I'm glad you're here even if you could have called last weekend and eased my mind incredibly."
He snorted softly at that. "You know I've never done this before?"
"What?" she asked, sounding confused?
He shrugged a bit under her. "Slept with someone."
"When would I have?"
"I wasn't like every day or anything and they had moms and stuff same as you. Not moms that cared perhaps what they did, but enough I wouldn't have been able to spend a night there or anything."
"Oh," she said. "At least I'm the first for something."
"You're the first for a lot of things, Claire." He shifted a bit so he could kiss her. "The last, too, for anything."
"You think so?"
"Unless you're planning on ditching me."
"No plans on that."
"Why hadn't I ever noticed you at parties before that night?"
He shrugged. "I don't know. It's not like I stayed and shared beers with the people who used my stuff. I was usually in and out. Some people would meet me outside and carry on with their partying once our exchange happened."
"I'm not sure we'd be here if we'd met at a different party, though."
"Because Christmas break gave us those two weeks to talk without school being a factor. I got to a point I could trust you were actually interested. I don't think I could have gotten there without that time."
"True I suppose."
"Anyway, get some sleep."
"Listen to you."
"I'm not the one who just drove all day."
"It is surprisingly tiring considering you just sit in a car while doing it."
"Yeah, I've never made that kind of a drive, but I've heard it can be draining. So rest, I'm not going anywhere."
"I like you here."
"Me, too," he said, kissing her again before moving so she could settle against him again. He liked her there, a lot. He stared at the ceiling for a while, cursing Joe and his cohorts yet again for that night. He believed her when she said she understood and everything, but fuck it if the next two days alone with her like this would be a hell of a lot more fun without the cast.
Story ©Susan Falk/APCKRFAN/PhantomRoses.com