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***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?"

"Truth?"

"Truth…"

"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."

"Really?"

"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?"

"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.

"Yeah?"

"Once you've moved?"

"Yeah?"

"I want them gone."

"That can be done under one condition."

"What?"

"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.

"Yes."

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?"

"Yeah."

"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."

"Really?"

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

"Yeah?"

"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?"

"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."

"Claire."

"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?"

"Yeah."

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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***Chapter Two***
Word Count: 2,919

He felt her watching him. He was still getting used to that. Being watched out of interest. Sure he had girls interested in him, but none like her before. He was trying to act like being invited into her home was no big deal, but he knew it was a huge deal. For her. Likely she knew it was for him, too.

Three months ago he'd never imagined being here today. He'd assumed she'd figure out who he was and that would be the end of it. He knew who she was. There was no one who went to Shermer High who didn't know her. He hadn't been surprised she didn't know him, though. What reason would she have had to know of him?

"So what do we do tomorrow?" Claire asked.

John shrugged as he flipped through her record collection. She didn't like silence much he was learning. He wasn't a huge talker, contrary to the first few phone conversations they had during Christmas break. He hadn't been able to shut up during those calls for some reason. Hours he'd talked to her, telling her shit he hadn't told anyone else. She'd listened, taken him seriously, and hadn't treated him like a thug who wouldn't amount to anything.

"Are all these yours?" he asked.

"As opposed to whose?"

"I don't know," he said. "You've got stuff in here I wasn't expecting you to have."

"Like?"

"You like The Doors? Hendrix? Cream?" He pulled her copy of The Wall from its spot. "I'm surprised your parents let you have this in your possession."

"My mother freaked out when she found out my brother bought that for me. I wanted it so bad, though."

He chuckled softly, opening the jacket to peer at the artwork included in there. Some of it was not exactly obscene but he could see where her parents might freak out about it. His didn't give a shit as long as it didn't get him in trouble.

"And yes, I like those bands. I like a little bit of everything."

"Why are all your records down here?" he asked, regarding her a bit. His records were carefully, safely kept in his bedroom where his parents couldn't do anything to them.

"This is where I listen to the stereo? I'm the only one who spends time down here anymore. I used to have them in my room when my brother was still living at home. We had some down here together, that we both liked."

He nodded. Valid explanation. He supposed her parents didn't have much reason to spend time in the basement.

"See," he said, pulling out a copy of Huey Lewis & the News' Sports album. "This is what I pictured for you."

She huffed, clearly not pleased with his commentary on her record collection. A lot could be told about someone and the music they listened to, at least John believed that to be the case.

"You know, my parents aren't going to be gone forever."

"No, really?"

"Yes, really."

"I'm here, aren't I?" he said.

"And why are you avoiding answering my question?"

"What question is that, Babe?"

"What do we do tomorrow?"

"About what?"

"You know, school. Brian, Andy, and Allison. They know."

"They know you came to see me. They don't know that we're dating."

"I don't want them thinking I went there to have sex with you."

"We wouldn't want that," he said with a slight scowl as he slid the Huey Lewis album back into its place. "All nice and alphabetized. I'm impressed."

"Shut up," she said.

"What is it you want me to say? Are you asking me if we should come out?"

"Well, it seems sort of silly to keep hiding if some people know, doesn't it?"

"They don't know anything. They don't even know you found me."

"I was gone for a while, I'm sure they know."

"Maybe you got lost," he said with a shrug.

"So, you don't want to come out?"

"I didn't say that, but you sure seemed as if it was important to you and your crown that your dating status be kept under wraps."

"Well, if you'd come with me."

"Not a chance in hell I'm going there," he said, shaking his head when he spotted her copy of Thriller. He wasn't surprised she had a copy. There were two copies. What did she need two copies of the same album for?

"Why not?"

"Just what I want to do, spend an obscene amount of money to spend time with people I can't stand any other day of the week."

"You can stand me."

"Yeah, if it was just you and me I'd pay the money."

"Really?" she asked, sounding surprised.

He shrugged. "I guess. I don't know. I just don't do school functions."

"I've noticed," she said.

"So, you're done hiding? Is that what you're trying to tell me?"

"I haven't been hiding. It's not like we never go anywhere in public or anything."

He had to admit she'd been more willing to do things than he'd given her credit for once she found out who he was. He'd assumed dating at all would be out of the question. They'd gone to movies more than a few times now. Valentine's Day he was going to take her out for dinner at a nice restaurant other couples from their school likely would have been. That had been a disaster, but he'd planned to. He thought for sure she was never going to speak to him again. She'd hung up on him and a piece of him cried out from a pain he didn't quite understand. He almost hadn't called her back, certain he'd just get the sound of her slamming the phone down a second time. He wouldn't have blamed her. Until that night he hadn't told her … everything about his home life. She'd known it wasn't good.

So, she clearly wasn't against being seen with him in public totally. They'd just been somewhat cautious until now and hadn't acknowledged one another at school. He had to admit it was kind of fun, watching her and other people watching her. He wasn't the only one not in her crowd who watched either.

She'd been the focus of quite a bit of gossip on Valentine's Day. He'd listened with interest to the stories swirling around Shermer High's student body about her secret admirer. None had come close to guessing correctly. It was the only time in his life he'd given a girl any sort of gift.

He stepped away from the shelves then, sliding his arms around her. She tilted her head a bit to look at him. Her looks always floored him. He'd never had a girl look at him the way she did. He was still wrapping his mind around what the look meant.

She liked him.

She didn't like the drugs he could get her or anything else. Just him.

"Where are your parents anyway?"

"I don't know. Out."

"You don't know?"

"No. They went out. I didn't ask questions."

"Huh," he said, bringing a hand up to touch her neck and ear. Even home on a Sunday with no plans she had makeup on and her hair done. Maybe that was because he was coming over. He wasn't sure.

"Where are your parents?"

"At a bar somewhere," he said, glancing at the clock behind her. "They won't be home until around eight o'clock. It's Sunday so Dad will get home early to sleep his weekend indulgences off."

"And your mom?"

"About the same."

"She…"

He cut her off from asking any more questions by kissing her. He didn't want to talk about his parents right now. He groaned softly as her lips parted, inviting him in. He took her up on the offer, darting his tongue between her lips to find hers. She'd never let him do this until yesterday. He'd been shocked as hell (and incredibly turned on) when she'd let him.

He knew his old man would warn him away from his plan to move his ass halfway across the country for a girl he'd barely even kissed. He'd probably agree with his old man's advice if she was the sole reason he was moving. He needed to get out of here. She'd just planted the seed, giving him an idea of a place to go. Her being there, too, was just an added bonus.

"Princess," he whispered.

"God, I hate when you call me that."

He chuckled softly. "I know," he whispered, kissing her ear.

He slid a hand lower along her back, cupping her ass and drawing her to him. Too much probably but he couldn't resist. She pulled away as he expected her to, but not completely to where he had to stop touching her. He'd tried yesterday to get them at least a little past just kissing, but she had incredible will power.

A closet at school may not exactly have been the best place to make such a move, but she'd come to him! That had really shocked him, her risking getting in trouble for him. Worse than trouble really because if Vernon had caught her with him the last couple months of her senior year would be a living hell. Vernon would ride her just as he rode John, probably harder actually.

"I don't want to," he whispered.

"What?"

"Tell anyone," he said.

"Why not?" she asked, pulling away completely now.

"Why do we need to tell anyone? Who cares? I mean, are your friends going to suddenly become friends with me because I'm your boyfriend? No. Am I suddenly going to be a candidate for your king? No. So, what's the point?"

"John," she said.

"Claire," he said.

"You're my boyfriend!"

"Yeah, so. Why is this bothering you all of a sudden? Come on, Andy, Brian, and Allison aren't going to say anything to anyone."

"Are you ashamed of me?" she asked.

"What?" he asked. That had to be the most ridiculous thing he'd ever heard in his life.

"You heard me. Are you ashamed?"

"No!"

"You ashamed to be dating a girl more than a week you haven't fucked yet?"

"Wow. Where'd that come from?"

"You've had sex!"

"Yeah."

"Not with me. You can't tell me your friends wouldn't wonder what you're doing with someone who won't put out."

"I'd tell them it was none of their business. It's not. Believe it or not I don't tell my friends who I do and don't have sex with."

"Right," she said.

"Now you question whether I can keep my mouth shut?" He frowned, thinking that one over. "So, you want to come out, but you think I'm going to tell people what we do together. Why would you want to do that?"

"I don't know!"

"You know Patty Ernst?"

"You know I do."

"There was a party I was at a week before the one where we met."

"You did not have sex with her! She's my friend! Oh my God, I can't believe…" he placed a finger over her mouth.

"I didn't say that. Let me finish. She offered me some very creative things in exchange for product. You don't hear me walking around telling people she's a slut willing to trade sexual favors for some dope."

"She did that?"

"Now you can't go around telling anyone that either. I'm telling you as proof that I can, and do, keep my mouth shut. You think she'd still be one of your court members or whatever the fuck they're called if that got out?"

"No," Claire admitted.

"So, you don't really want to come out. Do you?"

"I just think it's stupid to hide. I mean, we're moving to Florida together."

"Well, not quite together…"

"I know, I have to live in a dorm my freshman year, but you're still moving where I'm going to school."

"Yes."

"I'm not ashamed."

"I didn't think you were. I really don't. My plan is to drop off the face of the planet to everyone concerned at Shermer High besides you. So, not telling people was no hardship to me."

"But, Andy and Allison are going to…"

He nodded a little. So, she wanted that. To be seen holding someone's hand around school. Huh. He never would have had her pegged as the type. He knew she wasn't ashamed exactly, but he had to believe there was some doubt as to how her friends would react to seeing them together behind her hesitation to come out as his girlfriend before now.

"If Allison gets knocked up are you going to want to do that, too?"

"What? What kind of a question is that?"

"I don't know. Just wondering what Andy and Allison have to do with us and our relationship."

"They don't," she shrugged.

He sighed softly, trying to take her hand but she drew hers away before he could fully get hers in his. So this was more than just a casual thing to her. She was really thinking about going public as his girlfriend.

"I don't want Vernon to find out," he said finally.

"Why not? What's he going to do? Give you another detention for dating me? Eight Saturdays about brings us to graduation anyway. He can't give you more."

"No, but he can make your last few months hellish. He can ride you. He can rig the vote so you don't get your crown. He could do a lot of things if he felt like it. He doesn't like me if you didn't notice that."

"I did," she said.

"I don't want you to get fallback because of my fuckups."

"Oh," she said.

"Before yesterday I probably wouldn't have cared, but you're on his radar now. He knows you."

"Well, of course he knows me."

He scoffed. "Get over yourself. You think he cares who the prom queen is from year to year? He doesn't give a shit about anything but collecting his paycheck. You'll leave and next year someone new will be on that stage and he won't know the difference."

"I suppose," she said, seeming to mull that over.

He sighed, moving to touch her again. She let him this time so she must realize his reasoning was sound.

"Come on, it's kind of fun, don't you think?" he asked.

"I just. God, I have a boyfriend! I shouldn't have to hide that from everyone. It's ridiculous I have to go to prom with someone who isn't my boyfriend and promise you ten minutes somehow or somewhere. It's like we're doing something wrong and have to hide or something. How stupid is that? I mean, we're talking of living together in a year. Joe Anderson thinks I like him because I said maybe to him. God, I wouldn't date him for a million dollars, but he's the only one who's asked me I at least get along with."

He hadn't realized who had asked her. John really didn't want to know the name. It was bad enough thinking of her getting all dressed up for someone else. Now he had a potential face to go with it.

"Why do you have to go with someone else?"

"What?"

"Why can't you go by yourself?"

"Because that'd be stupid. I can't go to prom by myself, John."

"What if I managed to show up?"

"You just said you don't do school activities…"

"I guess I didn't realize it was that big of a deal to you not to have a date."

"What? Why wouldn't you? I mean why would you want me to go with someone else?"

"I don't know. I've never done this before."

"Are you asking me to prom?"

He sighed. "Is Vernon going to be there?"

"It's the weekend before graduation, John. What can he do at that point?"

She had a point.

Fuck. Was he really about to do this?

"Then, yeah, I guess I'm asking you to prom. Joe Anderson can find someone else's girlfriend to take to prom."

"I should say no."

"What? Why? You just got done…"

"For making me think you don't want to go!"

"I don't, but I guess you have a point, it's the weekend before graduation there's not a whole lot to lose by that point." He leaned in and kissed her then, glad she kissed him back. He wasn't sure for a while there if he'd fucked things up or not. "You can go that long without telling anyone?"

"Yes," she said, but she didn't sound happy about it.

"Vernon dies or something we can tell whoever you want."

"God, if that happens I'd feel…"

"I wouldn't. The guy's a prick. I'd maybe feel bad for his family, maybe."

"I know," she said, sliding her hand into his and leading him to a couch.

"You're going to have to tell me what I need to do, you know. Tickets and whatever. I've never been to a dance in my life."

"I have no problem with that," she said.

"I'll bet you don't," he quipped. "That's like you in your element, isn't it? Having a date you can push around into doing whatever you want him to do?"

"Well, I'm not going to push you into doing anything you don't want to do."

He scoffed. "You already have me asking you to prom."

"I didn't ask you to do that. That's all you, John."

No, it was all her, but he wasn't going to tell her that.

Return to Top



***Chapter Three***
Word Count: 3,023

“Why are there Pop-Tarts and an apple in your locker?” his friend Paul asked.

John shrugged. Good question. He certainly hadn't left the stuff in there over the weekend. “Why not?”

He sighed a bit as he took the foil package from the top shelf in his locker. He hated when she did shit like this because he felt bad that he couldn't do anything for her in return.

“I don't know. I just don't see you with Pop-Tarts very often. Certainly not apples.”

“You monitoring what I eat now or something?” he asked, glaring at his friend. She'd evidently paid closer attention to the shit he said yesterday than he realized when he told her his mom had forgotten to go grocery shopping over the weekend. No grocery shopping meant he had no food. “You have something against apples?”

“No, of course not,” Paul said.

John slapped the guy's hand away when Paul reached for the apple. He didn't really care if the guy took the apple, though John had to admit it looked pretty good right about now. There was a piece of paper under it, likely from her because he knew it wasn't his paper.

“Hands off. What do you think this is? A help yourself to John's shit buffet?”

“Hey, man, sorry,” Paul said.

“Yeah, yeah,” John said. “Don't you have somewhere to be? Like class?” he asked, sliding the apple aside so he could grab the piece of paper. This wasn't the first time he'd found a note in his locker from her, but it was the first time he'd found food in it from her.

He wanted to be mad, but he was admittedly too hungry for that. He'd eaten at her house before going home yesterday and he hadn't had much to choose from this morning. Some would say that was his own fault, but he refused to buy food for his parents to eat when they couldn't be bothered to buy food for him to eat in return.

He was surprised she remembered the combination to his locker. She hadn't used it before now even though he'd given it to her a couple of months ago. One of the notes she'd written him ended up somewhere he didn't find it until days later. She'd been pretty pissed off at him not knowing about its contents later that night when they were talking on the phone.

Paul wandered off, leaving John by himself. He unfolded the letter, looking around for a second before reading it.

Hi.

Sometimes I'm not always sure if what you say is for real, but the idea of you not having something to eat in the morning really bothered me. Mom always says it's the most important meal of the day. I'm not sure I believe her, but if she's right. Well, you have to eat something. Please don't be mad at me.

I had fun yesterday. I'm sorry if you get frustrated with me. I've just never done this before and I guess I worry that you'll see me like every other girl you've been with before if things happen so soon. Maybe it doesn't seem soon enough for you. I don't know. I worry, I guess, that this is all happening so fast. Or that you'll move and a month in realize you don't like it there and move somewhere else. It's not that I don't think about it, but it's all so new to me thinking about it let alone wanting to act on my thoughts.

Anyway, I had fun and I hope you did, too. Enough to come over again sometime? My parents don't have to be gone for you to do that. I hope you know that. They won't bite you, I promise.

I'll talk to you later, I guess, unless you're mad at me.

Love,
Me

She never signed her notes with her name. He wasn't sure why, if it was to prevent anyone from knowing who was writing him notes if one was found or just because she assumed (rightfully) he knew who they were from.

She never wrote long notes, sometimes over the weekend she did but never longer than a piece of notebook paper usually. Today's was no different.

Frustrated?

Was he? Maybe a little, but only because it was new for him, too. Surely she realized that. Maybe not. He wasn't sure how to act. He wasn't even sure how to treat someone like her. He knew the roses he'd given her at Valentine's Day weren't the only thing he should've given her by now. He just had no idea what the fuck to get someone like her. Anything he could afford, she probably already had ten of anyway, so he'd gone with getting her nothing. And now he had prom tickets and all the shit that went with it to worry about.

He was such an idiot.

Which was why he felt like shit about eating the stupid fucking Pop-Tarts she'd left for him. He may not have been a boyfriend before, but he knew it was him supposed to be doing shit for her instead of the other way around.

Not liking Florida? Possible. He didn't see that happening if only because it was away from here and she was going to be nearby eventually. He couldn't blame her for having doubts, though. Hell, he had doubts himself. He had no idea if he'd be able to find a job even down there. Hopefully three months was enough time to allow him to do that and find a place decent enough to live in. He just wasn't used to a girl who wasn't just playing at being hard-to-get. He'd encountered a few of those before. He'd never encountered someone who really meant it when she said they had to stop.

***

Claire reached for the folded paper at the bottom of her locker, letting out a breath she didn't even realize she'd been holding all morning long. She wasn't sure how he'd react to what she did. She couldn't stand the thought that he wouldn't eat, though. Not her problem maybe, but she thought it was. She was sure he was used to people overlooking it or not giving a shit, but she wasn't like that.

Not mad. Thank you. See you by your car after school?

J-

He'd mentioned going somewhere after school today so she guessed he still wanted to. That was good. At least she assumed it was.

God, he was confusing. A little exasperating, too. She knew he was hoping her parents being gone yesterday would mean she'd take him up to her room, but she wasn't ready for that. Never mind her mom would know. How? Claire wasn't sure exactly. She just would. He didn't understand what her mom was like because his was pretty much not involved.

She spotted Joe coming toward her locker so folded the note up quickly and grabbed her books for her next class. God, she was going to have to tell him she wasn't going with him. He was going to wonder why. She liked him as a friend well enough, but she absolutely hadn't wanted to go to prom with him. Then she hadn't really wanted to go with anyone but John when it got down to it. Who wanted to go to a formal with anyone but their boyfriend?

“Hey Claire,” Joe said.

“Hey,” she said, shutting her locker.

“How was your weekend?”

“It was good. You know, the usual,” she said.

“You didn't show up at Stubby's party Saturday night.”

“Oh, no, I couldn't make it. My parents were still kind of mad at me,” she shrugged. She didn't add that she had gone to get something to eat with John instead.

“Ah,” he said. “That explains it. It was a good time.”

“Was it? I'm sorry I missed it then.”

She had no idea what to say to him. He was expecting her to answer him, with a yes obviously. She said she'd think about it, hoping he'd get the hint that her answer was no. Evidently not.

“Well, see you later.”

“Sure,” she said.

He was going to keep coming up and talking to her until she gave him an answer. She just wasn't in the mood for answering his question of why she didn't want to go with him right now. And, honestly, she wasn't totally sure John really wanted to go so she wasn't entirely ready to say no and then have no date.

He was near her car after school, smoking a cigarette. She had no idea what he had in mind for today. This would be the first time they'd done something together three days in a row.

“Hey,” he said once he got into her car.

“Hi,” she said.

“Let's get out of here,” he said.

“Why is it okay for me to give you rides from school?”

“You think Vernon's going to see you doing that and assume it's because you're my girlfriend? I doubt it.”

“What would he think?”

“I don't know, but I doubt he'd think that. Driving me off school property is not holding my hand or kissing me in the halls.”

“You'd kiss me in the halls?”

“Isn't that what you were asking me to do yesterday?”

“Well, not specifically, no,” she said.

He chuckled. “Rethinking that coming out thing now, huh?”

“No, I wouldn't have a problem kissing you.”

“Huh,” he said, regarding her.

“Where are we going anyway?”

“My place,” he said.

“Oh,” she said.

“I figured I saw your record collection you could see mine.”

“I bet you don't have any Huey Lewis.”

“I think you'd win that bet,” he said with a laugh.

“Is your mom going to go shopping after work today?”

He shrugged. “I don't know.”

“Do you need me to stop at Jewel…”

“No,” he said quickly.

“John,” she said.

“Babe, thank you for the Pop-Tarts, but I survived without them before today.”

“That doesn't mean you should have to!”

He shrugged.

“All right, fine,” she said.

“Thank you,” he said. “And thanks for the stuff, but you don't need to do that.”

“I know I don't need to.”

“Okay, well, just saying.”

“I hear you.”

“The maid had the past eighteen years off so excuse the mess,” he said when he let her pass through the front door in front of him.

It wasn't as bad as she expected, honestly. The way he described his mom she had visions of dishes piled to the ceiling and stuff everywhere. Could it be neater? Sure, but she wasn't here for that.

“Coke?”

“Sure,” she said, watching as he walked to the kitchen to grab them each a pop.

“Come on,” he said, gesturing toward the hallway.

“So, is coming to look at your record collection how you get girls to go into your bedroom?” she asked.

“You caught me,” he said. “It was all a plan to get you into my bedroom. Not really. I just don't hang out there, that's all. Beds can be sat on, you know?”

“I know,” she said, taking a seat on his bed. His room was much neater than the rest of the house. She regarded the posters on the wall.

“You like The Runaways?” she asked.

“Not really,” he said.

“Why do you have a poster of them on your wall then?”

“Because Lita Ford is hotter than shit,” he said with a shrug, regarding the poster before taking a seat next to her.

She shook her head a little, but the answer wasn't surprising.

“What? Sue me. It's not like I'm going to ever meet her and have a shot or anything. You going to get mad I think a rock star is hot?”

“No, I didn't say anything.”

“Yeah, I'm not sure you have to.”

“It's fine! I was just surprised to see their poster on your wall.”

“They're all right,” he said, offering her a cigarette. She waved it off. She didn't smoke much he noticed, rarely. Once in a while she would take a drag off of his cigarette but very rarely did she take one for herself.

“So, this is your room.”

“Yup,” he said, shifting so his back was resting against the wall behind his bed. He slid his hand to her back. “Come here,” he said.

“John,” she whispered.

“Jesus. I just asked you to come here. You don't even know what for!”

“I'm sorry,” she said, sliding so she was sitting next to him. God, why was being this close to him so nerve wrecking?

“The brown sugar and cinnamon ones are my favorite,” he said.

“Really?”

“Yeah,” he said.

“Huh. Mom always buys them for a day I don't get to actually eat something before I go to school. I just grabbed a package, I'm glad I chose your favorite.”

He chuckled. “They're Pop-Tarts.”

“Well, still,” she said.

“You're fine, thanks.”

“You already said that.”

“I know. I'm not used to that. Someone doing things for me.”

“I know,” she said.

He set his ashtray aside and leaned toward her then, kissing her. She sighed softly as she parted her lips. He'd really liked when she did this the other day at school. She'd never been brave enough to do it before. Too chicken and too afraid he'd get the idea, think she was ready for more. She'd been curious but she'd been too scared and he hadn't pushed her into anything more than she was willing to give him.

He broke the kiss and she gave a soft whimper of protest.

“Listen to you,” he said with a soft chuckle as he moved his mouth to her jaw after kissing her lower lip.

“Shut up,” she said with a soft sigh when he found her ear and the side of her neck.

“Gladly,” he murmured before nipping at her skin there causing her to whimper again. She brought her hand to his head as he moved lower along her neck, nudging her blouse's collar aside a bit to kiss her shoulder. He stopped kissing for a second as if expecting her to tell him to stop, but she didn't want him to stop. It felt too good for her to want him to.

“I'm surprised you let me do that,” he whispered a while later.

“Why?” she asked.

“I don't know. It's a hickey.”

“It's not going to show,” she said.

“No,” he agreed, kissing the spot before moving his lips along her neck a bit. “One of these days I'm going to leave one that shows, though.”

“Why?”

He shrugged, kissing her collarbone and then her throat, sliding a fingertip along her skin there. She shifted her face a bit, lowering it so she could kiss his palm.

“I don't know. It's you. I'd find it amusing to hear what people said if you showed up with a hickey.”

“I'm going to tomorrow.”

“As you said, though, it won't show.”

“I could wear something…”

“Hmm,” he said, running a fingertip over her lower lip which she kissed, too.

“You don't want me to?”

“Wear something that will let it show?” He shrugged a bit. “You could, sure.”

“You wouldn't mind?”

“Mind?” he asked, sounding confused.

“Well, they're not going to guess it's you giving me a hickey.”

“I'd know it's me who gave it to you.”

“And that would be enough?”

“Sure. I think I might enjoy overhearing what Joe says about it.”

“Maybe he'll finally stop hanging around me hoping I'll say yes to prom.”

“You haven't told him you're not going with him yet?”

“John, I wanted to be sure you didn't change your mind. Forty-eight hours ago you had no desire to go.”

“I still have no desire to go, but that's what boyfriends do.”

“I know, but can you blame me for thinking you might change your mind?”

“I asked. I'm not changing my mind.”

“I'll see what I have that won't make my parents freak out.”

He chuckled softly at that, watching her as she kissed his fingertip. She knew he was watching because she was watching him. He seemed to like her doing this. His mouth found hers again, though. She was fine with that. She liked kissing him.

“Did you eat the apple?” she asked a while later.

“I did.”

“Good.”

“Worried about me not eating fruit?”

She shrugged. “I just wondered if you ate it is all.”

“I did. I was hungry.”

“I'm sorry,” she whispered.

“Don't apologize for something that's not your fault.”

“I know, I just feel…”

“Don't,” he said.

“I can't help it.”

“I'm fine. Really. It's not the first time…”

“You shouldn't have to go to school hungry.”

“Well, you obviously know my combination.”

“I do,” she said, settling her head against his shoulder. He was holding her hand, which surprised her for some reason. He'd taken it, too, not the other way around with him holding it because she'd initiated the contact.

“I really don't want you to leave me food, though. You know that, right? I like your notes.”

“Do you?”

“Yeah,” he said. “I've never gotten notes before.”

She scoffed. “Don't lie to me.”

“Not the kind of notes you leave me I haven't.”

“I don't want to know what kind of notes you've gotten before me. Pornographic ones, I'm sure.”

“None I've saved.”

“You've saved mine?”

“Some of them. Not all of them, but the first couple and a few others.”

“Why?”

He shrugged. “I liked what they said?”

“I have some of yours, too.”

“I imagine we'll have some more to add to our collections this summer.”

“Don't remind me.”

“Hey, I could stay here…”

“No, I want you to go. No, that's not true. I hate that you're going. You need to go, I understand that. I just, God, the idea of being away from you for months after seeing you every day for months.”

He leaned in and kissed her, drawing away almost immediately. Too soon for her liking. She really liked kissing him.

“I'm going to miss you, too, Princess.”

Return to Top

***Part Four***
Word Count: 6,067

April 1984

"No, absolutely fucking not."

"It'll look really nice."

"Great. Some other guy can look really nice."

"Why not?"

"I'm not wearing that. It's as simple as that."

"John," she said, sounding more than a little annoyed. He was sure she was, but nowhere near as annoyed as he was currently. Never mind he was standing here getting fitted for a tuxedo that he was spending a crazy amount of money on to wear for only a few hours. She wanted him to look idiotic on top of it. He had limits.

"It's pink."

"It's not pink!"

"Babe, it's pink."

"It matches my dress almost perfectly."

"I don't care! It's still pink."

"It is not! It's salmon."

"It's pink. Anyone seeing me wear that will think I'm wearing pink. I'm not doing it!"

"John!"

"Claire. Can't I just wear a black tie? Or a white one? Even grey? Come on, this is me we're talking about."

She sighed. "Fine," she said. "But it's not pink."

"It is close enough!"

The guy helping them looked more than a little amused. John couldn't help but think this probably wasn't the first time the guy had heard this type of conversation between prom dates.

"You look nice," she said once she'd quit harping on the tie color and looked at him.

"Yeah?" he asked.

"Yes," she said.

He regarded himself in the mirror. He supposed he cleaned up pretty well. He'd never worn a suit before in his life. He supposed there was something poetic about his first one being a tuxedo to prom with the girl who was going to be queen.

She hadn't wasted any time ensuring he was stuck taking her to prom either. She'd gone shopping with her mom for a dress last week and now here they were tonight, picking out his tux. Not that spending an entire evening with her was a hardship, but fuck if he still wasn't having doubts about this tuxedo thing. And being seen with her in front of the whole fucking student body. Well, the juniors and seniors anyway.

"Good enough to kiss me while I'm wearing it?"

"Yes," she said, leaning in and doing just that. It wasn't as good of a one as he might have liked, but they were at the mall not at one of their houses, her car, or the movie theater. He'd take it.

John forked over the money to cover the deposit for the tuxedo once he'd changed back into his normal clothes. God, he couldn't believe he was actually doing this. Until tonight, coming here to try the tuxedo on he'd hoped she'd let him off the hook. No such luck. Of course she wouldn't and he couldn't blame her he supposed. He absolutely didn't want her going with anyone else so that left him going because she wasn't going to wake up in the next couple of weeks and decide not to go.

"You'd better not call them and change the color of my tie. I swear to God, Claire, it's bad enough…"

"I won't," she said. "I promise! I just thought it'd look nice if we matched."

"Yeah, well then maybe you should've chosen a dress that wasn't pink."

She took his hand when they left the store.

"Is this an off shopping night or something?" he asked.

"What?" she asked, clearly not understanding his question.

"You're holding my hand."

"Yeah," she said cautiously. Evidently she didn't get it.

"At the mall…"

"Sorry," she said, letting go of his hand.

"I didn't say you had to let go."

"Well, you must not want me to. You said something. Are you worried Mr. Vernon's going to see us here, too?"

He sighed softly. That wasn't what he was getting at at all. He didn't care if Vernon saw them when it got down to it. He only cared because she'd care if Vernon did something to screw up the last month or so of school for her. Denying her the crown she'd probably woken up thirteen years ago before starting kindergarten assuming she'd get without competition or contest would be screwed up.

"That's not what I meant!"

"What did you mean then?"

"You've never done that where people could openly see us."

"I have too!"

"Where? Besides a movie? And who's going to pay attention there?" Certainly they wouldn't have gotten attention on them when people did other things at a movie that probably didn't even occur to Claire. She was clearly thinking that over, too.

"See. You haven't. That's why I mentioned it."

"I wanted to."

"Well, you can all you want. I was just making sure you realized what you were doing."

"I realize what I'm doing."

"Thank you by the way," he said as she took his hand again.

It took her a minute or two to do it, so he wasn't sure if she was mad at him or not. He really didn't care who saw them, but he couldn't help but think deep down in his gut she would care if people started seeing her with him. Saying she didn't care wasn't the same as people suddenly thinking she was acting incredibly out of character by going out with him.

"For what?" she asked.

"Coming along to pick out the tux," he said.

"Wow."

"What?" he asked.

"How hard was that for you to say?"

"Pretty hard," he said with a shrug. "I can admit I had no idea what you'd want me to show up wearing."

"It was fun."

"It would have been more fun if I could've seen you find your dress."

"Why?"

He shook his head with a slight laugh. "Never mind, Babe."

"No, why?"

"Because you would've been out of the dresses in between trying them on."

"Why do you think I tried more than one on?"

"That's the part of that you're choosing to comment on, huh? So you'd let me see you out of them?"

"No! I mean," she sighed. "My mother was along."

"And I know you tried more than one on. You probably kept the sales woman very busy."

"I did," she said.

"Busier than you thought you would before you had a boyfriend to take you?"

"Yes."

"Good," he said.

"Why?"

He shrugged. "Sue me. I like that you picked out exactly what you wanted knowing you had wearing it with me along in mind."

"It's still not pink."

"It's pink!"

She sighed softly.

"So, now what? The punishment is over. I behaved myself. Do I get paroled early or what?"

"Early?"

"Yeah. Do we get to go somewhere for the rest of the night?"

"We can, sure."

"Yeah?"

"What did you have in mind?"

"Are your parent's home?"

"Yes," she said.

"Oh," he said.

His were, too, which meant he couldn't suggest they go back there.

"We can still go there. I told you it's fine if you come over when they're there."

"Yeah, but won't they care you have to leave again to bring me home?"

"If it was one in the morning, sure."

"Fine," he said. He hated the idea. He really did. He and parents of his friends. He went out of his way to avoid them usually. Of course he didn't really have any real friends.

"Hi Dad," Claire said when they got there and went inside.

"Hi. How was your day?"

"It was good. How was yours?"

"Fine. Busy. The usual."

"Good. You remember John?" she said.

"I do. How are you, John?"

"I'm good, Mr. Standish. Thanks," he said.

"We're going to go downstairs and watch some TV and maybe play some pool."

"Okay. Not too late you have school in the morning."

"I know. I won't."

"Did you eat dinner?"

"Uh, yeah, we did at the mall."

"Okay. I'm sure your mother will ask."

"You can assure her I'm not starving."

"I will. Again, not too late."

"I know," she said, leading John to the hallway and the door that he knew led to her basement. John found her dad's calm attitude toward him a little odd. Her parents knew they were going to prom, he was pretty sure they knew she was going with him tonight to pick out his tuxedo. If he had a teenaged daughter he wasn't sure he'd be at all calm or polite to the guy taking his daughter to prom. Then, he doubted he'd have someone like Claire. Her getting detention was the worst thing she'd done. Well, that she'd been caught for. She drank and smoked up once in a while just like anyone else their age did.

"Come here," he said, taking her into his arms almost as soon as they got down the stairs.

"I'm right here," she said.

"I know. It's not good enough," he said, sliding his arms around her and drawing her to him for a kiss. He groaned softly when she parted her lips almost immediately. God, he loved when she did that because he took it to mean there was something about him she liked enough to kiss him this way. Her arms slid up around his neck as she pressed against him.

She stopped kissing him and he was going to ask her what was wrong but then she started kissing his jaw. He wasn't going to object to that especially as she worked her way to his ear. He murmured something about it feeling good as she kissed his ear and lower to his neck.

"I'm glad," she whispered before nipping at his skin there.

"Me, too," he said softly and she giggled at that.

She stopped kissing him then, resting her head against his chest. He slid a hand up to touch her hair. His other hand worked its way lower along her back. He cupped her ass, drawing her against him.

"John," she whispered. He felt her start to pull away.

"Christ, I'm not even doing anything!" He'd touched her this way before, too, even. Maybe it was different now, today. Maybe because her dad was right upstairs. How the fuck should he know what the rules were?

"I'm just not…"

"Again, I'm not doing anything! You were the one kissing my ear and my neck. You thought I'd just stand here and do nothing?"

"I don't know," she said.

He sighed, sliding his hand away from her ass and to her hip.

"It's natural, you know. You do things to me I want to return the favor."

"I wasn't touching you!"

He supposed she wasn't. He sighed softly. He had no idea some days why he even put himself through this. He certainly didn't have to. He wouldn't be paying for a tuxedo rental if he had it in his head to walk away and not see this through, though.

His dad would tell him he shouldn't bother trying to see it through because it wasn't going to work out. He'd insist John was going to fuck this up just as he had everything else decent in his life.

"Claire. You do things to me. They make me feel good. I want to do the same to you."

"I'm scared!"

He sighed. He knew that. He knew she was scared of a few things. More than just them doing things. She was scared it was the only reason he liked her. He thought they'd gotten past that, but somewhere in her mind there was still the thought that he was only out to get her out of her panties. It was the main reason the night of their detention he'd turned her down. If they had sex then she'd wonder if he was staying with her out of obligation or something. He supposed he couldn't win.

"Why is it okay for you to kiss me like that but I can't do anything besides just regularly kiss you?"

"I don't know!"

He slid his hand higher over her hip and waist. Higher along her side so the pad of his thumb grazed along the side of one of her breasts.

"Shh," he whispered, leaning down to kiss her again. She didn't kiss him back right away, but once she realized (apparently) that he could touch her like this without full-out accosting her she did. It was tempting, crazily so, to see just how far she'd let him go when it was clear the kiss wasn't going to end after a minute or two.

"Your heart is beating fast," she whispered against his ear when they stopped kissing to breathe for a couple of seconds.

"Uh huh," he said. He was sure it was.

"Because of kissing me?"

He chuckled softly.

"I'd like to say that's the reason."

"It's not?"

"Kissing you doesn't make my heart beat faster, Claire."

"Huh?" she asked, sounding confused.

"Being close to you does. Fuck, seeing you in a hall at school does."

"Really?"

"Really," he said, feeling like the biggest sap in the world for admitting that to her. He could admit it to himself, but his dad would tell him he was an idiot for letting her know how far gone he already was about her.

"I'm sorry," she whispered.

"For what exactly?" he asked.

She was apologizing for exciting him? She didn't want to excite him? He sure hoped she did because if she didn't they were on completely and totally different books not just chapters. He very much wanted to excite her and be excited by her. Would he go home from here and take a very cold shower? Yes, but for the first time in his life he thought someone was worth that.

"That I can't…"

He captured her mouth with his again, stopping her from saying what he knew was going to come out then. Fuck, any other girl he'd care immensely that he had to work this hard for a freaking kiss. Her breath hitched a bit as he slid his hand up a bit further so his thumb was barely an inch away from touching a nipple. He didn't go out of his way to try to touch her that way, though.

She would absolutely never know the crazy amount of restraint he was showing just now. He wanted so badly to see what she'd let him do since she was letting him do this much. He didn't push, though. Part of it was that she didn't completely trust him. He knew he had to earn that trust and a good way to earn it was not to push for much more than she gave him. She had to expect him to push a little, but he knew letting him touch her like this was a huge step for her.

"John," she whispered.

"Uh huh?"

"We should…"

"Be doing just this," he said.

"My mother…"

"We'll hear the door open," he whispered.

"I suppose," she murmured as he brushed a kiss over her cheek before finding her ear.

"Unless you want to go back to my place and my room…"

"No," she said after a couple of minutes. A couple of minutes longer than he thought it'd take to get an answer out of her. He hadn't really been serious because he knew she wouldn't agree to go with him. Was her hesitation temptation?

"You thought about it?"

"Uh huh," she whispered.

"Really?" He was completely kidding when he asked the question. "What made you say no?"

"I don't ever want to meet your father," she said.

"I understand that feeling more than you know."

"I don't, John! I mean it!"

"I know, Babe, I know. You won't ever have to."

"Speaking of fathers," she whispered.

"Yeah?"

"Mine's going to know we're not playing pool by now."

He chuckled softly against her ear. "You did say watching TV was a possibility."

"I suppose."

"We could move to the pool table and keep doing this over there if it'd make you feel better that at least we made an effort to try to play pool."

"Ha ha," she said softly. He'd actually kind of love to get her sitting on the edge of the pool table, but that was a thought for another time. Much, much farther into the future he imagined.

"We could leave, find somewhere to go…"

"No, this is fine," she said.

"Fine, huh?"

"Yes."

"Why don't your parents come down here when I'm here?"

She shrugged. "Because they trust me?"

"I guess they must."

"See? Sometimes it pays to be the good girl."

He chuckled. "Says the girl letting me practically feel her…"

"John," she said.

"Up. I was going to say up."

"Uh huh," she said softly with a light laugh, kissing his jaw.

"You're remarkably calm about that actually…"

"You're not inside my head at all."

"Not so calm?"

"No," she said. That had to be hard for her to admit.

"Can I try to make you even less calm?"

"I don't know."

"You don't know? That's better than a no."

"I don't like it!"

"Uh, Princess," he said cautiously.

He even stopped touching her with his thumb. If she didn't like it that was going to cast an entirely different light on things. Waiting he could handle, knowing eventually they'd get there. If she didn't like even this much that didn't bode well for ever getting there. He didn't get it, but he knew some people just didn't. He, on the other hand, loved feeling good whatever way he could get that feeling.

"Not that," she whispered.

"Oh," he said, very relieved just then.

"You have no idea how tempting it is for me to let you feel me…"

"I'm fine," he said with a soft chuckle that she couldn't finish the sentence. He'd waited, too, to see if she would.

"You say that."

"Claire, relax, what don't you like though?"

"Not feeling calm."

"Oh," he said with a soft sigh.

"You do that to me all of the time!"

So she did have an idea how she made him feel. He was glad to hear that. He was beginning to wonder if anything got under her skin.

"That's good, Babe. Honest. I've never felt like that either before."

"You like it?"

"Oh, I admit some days, especially in the beginning there when I knew full well who you were I wondered what kind of idiot I was. I didn't know the extent of your, uh, inexperience, but I knew you didn't go to parties and hook up with random football players. And I'd never heard anyone talk about having sex with you, so I knew what I was getting into talking to you."

He had, too. That first phone call. Fuck, to this day he couldn't say why he'd called her. He'd never had anyone just sit and talk to him as she had, though. She hadn't wanted his pot, his dick, or anything else. She'd just wanted … Him. It was very new and very heady. He'd called the next day, he supposed, to see if it was a fluke, a game, or a joke at his expense. He could think of no other reason why someone from her crowd would have sat there talking to him for as long as she had that first night at the party. He assumed they'd hang up that morning and that would be that. He hadn't counted on really liking her or the fact that she hadn't been drunk or stoned the night before so had legitimately liked him back.

It was the first time he'd ever called a girl with no preconceived notions in his mind about what was going to happen between them or what he was going to get out of her by calling. So if he wanted to turn the blame onto anyone for any frustrations he'd experienced the past few months it was his own fault. He didn't have to call her. He could've left that party and never seen or talked to her again. Of course he would've missed out on the best thing to ever come into his life, he knew that then, too.

"And now?"

"I can admit I like it," he whispered before kissing her again.

"Even the fact you've talked more the past few months than you have in a while?"

"A while? Try ever in my life! Yes, though, even that."

"You can do that again if you want."

He frowned. "Do what again?"

"With your thumb. What you were doing before you thought I was telling you I didn't like it."

"I was a little worried for a second there."

She laughed softly. "I bet you were."

"So, if my parents were gone…"

"I probably wouldn't have said no to going to your house."

"Really?"

"Well, I have to drive you home anyway."

He sighed. That wasn't the answer he wanted.

"I'm kidding, John. Yes, I would have. I just really don't want to meet them."

"Usually it's the guy's thing to say that."

"I know!"

"Two more months, Princess."

He had a little more money saved then he'd told her about. The tux put a bit of a dent in that savings, but ultimately he knew it would be worth it. If only he could talk her into living with him then she could come down to Florida whenever she wanted instead of around a dorm schedule. He knew that wouldn't fly, though, so while they'd talked about it in theory he hadn't pressed the issue. A year from now, though, he'd press the issue.

He had a lead on a job. He hadn't told her that because if it didn't pan out he didn't want anyone but him to be disappointed. He'd called a couple of weeks ago and had a local paper mailed to him at one of his friend's houses. There was no way his parents wouldn't get something like a Sunday paper from Tallahassee in the mail and not wonder what it was. He'd scoured the want ads from that paper and made some calls when he could. The calls had netted him a few possibilities, two stood out. One was a landscaping job and the other was a roofing job.

Good thing about being his dad's son, he supposed, he could do either of those things. Both companies had told him to get in touch with them once he was down there. The landscaping place had seemed a little more excited to hear from him than the roofer. He supposed though there were lots of people who called saying they were moving this place or that and never did it.

Both would be long fucking hours, which might result in him not seeing her too much during the week. Either would be year-round down there. If he could luck into something like that enough to at least get an apartment and move onto a better job once he was settled he'd be all right with that. He had a place to stay, too. A place that rented by the month. He figured he could stay there for the summer and once she was down there and settled he could look for a place with her help. The motel was probably beyond seedy, but he didn't care.

He'd asked the landscaper for some recommendations for cheap, temporary housing until he got a few paychecks in his pocket he'd given him a few names of places. He'd told John none were good places. John had asked because the guy had seemed legitimately interested in John getting down there. He hoped so at any rate. As long as the place had a bed and a shower he didn't really care, but the guy had said the one John was thinking about even had phones in the room. Outgoing calls would probably cost an arm and a leg, but Claire would be able to call him. That'd be something.

"I know," she whispered.

He didn't want to talk about it or think about it anymore tonight. Not really. Something told him it was going to be harder for him to leave come June 10 than he thought it was going to be. She probably didn't realize it but he was getting real used to seeing and talking to her every day.

He kissed her, touching her again like she seemed to want him to do. He was very glad she liked it, hopefully that meant she'd like it when he actually got to the point of really touching her the way he sure wanted to.

"Do I get to keep my Runaways poster?" he asked a while later as she was getting ready to take him home.

"What?" she asked.

He shrugged. "I have a whole bunch of posters and pictures on the walls in my room that was the only one you commented on."

"None of the others surprised me."

He supposed not.

"I don't care what you have in your room, John. It's a poster. Now, if I found Lita Ford in your living room…"

"I'll be sure she's gone before you get there then."

"Very funny."

"I know!"

"I didn't think you were bringing anything like that with you."

"I'm not going to, not much anyway. Some. I mean, some things I have I actually like, but no I plan on leaving with as little as possible so the 'rents don't know I'm not coming back until I'm long gone."

"Do you think they'll do anything?"

"What could they do? I'm eighteen, Babe."

"I wish you could go to school, too."

"Next year. I promise I'll look into it for next year. I'd be a year behind you, but it's not an option for this year. I'd be in debt up to my eyeballs when I graduated if I went where you're going. I was thinking there's got to be a school like Harper or something down there."

"Oh, yeah. Okay."

"Don't worry, Princess. I'll see what's there. The job and a place to live is top priority, but I have other things in mind for when I get down there. I won't make it so you're stuck with a blue collar guy for the rest of your life."

"You think that's what bothers me about you not going to college?"

"It's part of it."

"No! It's not! I mean, you're smart, John. I know you don't like people to see that, but I learned that while we were on Christmas break and talked so much. You have everyone else fooled, including Vernon, but you can't fool me on that. I think sometimes you wish we hadn't had those conversations, but I'm so glad we did."

"I am, too, actually."

"I understand you never thought you'd go to college."

"Nope. Never. Dad made it abundantly clear I'd better learn from him what I could because that was all the know-how I was going to get."

"Don't go for me or because you think I expect you to go."

"Yeah, we'll see what happens when I get down there."

"I just want you to keep your mind open to it. That's all. You thought of a community college so clearly you've more than thought on it, too."

"I have," he said.

He had to admit he'd feel better about himself, what he had to offer her if he had a degree that would hypothetically mean he could do more than mow lawns for a living. Without that, once she graduated he knew he'd be plagued with doubts. Was she staying with him because she thought she should? He didn't want that ever to enter the equation and he had no intention of giving her a reason to think about leaving him.

"Then we're fine. If it takes you a few years that's fine, too."

"Want to stop in St. Luke's parking lot for a while before taking me home?"

"Two hours of kissing me isn't enough?"

"Evidently not."

She laughed with a shake of her head. "You'll survive until tomorrow."

"I'm not so sure about that."

"Well, it'll give you something to wake up for anyway."

"And make me reconsider that not coming out at school thing."

"Really?"

"Fuck, I reconsider that every day, Babe. I do, but Vernon."

"What if I said I didn't care if all of the sudden I wasn't queen?"

"You'd care. You've spent the last four years building up to that. No way in hell can you tell me now, six weeks beforehand that you don't care."

She shrugged, so she realized he spoke the truth.

"Now, you decide you really, truly don't care and walk up and kiss me in the hall tomorrow. I'll kiss you back."

"You sure?"

He chuckled. "Uh, yeah, I would."

"Why?" she asked, sounding suspicious.

"Kind of like the looks you got on Valentine's Day and last Monday when you wore that sweater that showed your hickey just enough to see it was there. I enjoyed being the reason for those looks even if no one else knew I was the reason. I'm a guy. What do you want me to say? It wouldn't feel good to have everyone wonder what I'd done that no one else did?"

"That's the only reason?"

"No. You don't think it bothers me that no one knows who you're going to prom with. No one knows who gave you the hickey. No one knows why I suddenly have Pop Tarts in my locker. That I see guys asking you out because they don't know you're involved with someone. Me."

"I don't say yes!"

"I know you don't, but I love you so it bothers me. You have this thing where you think I don't want anyone to know. I'm being very careful of my parents finding out, so yes. I'm cautious. Seeing me hold your hand at the mall is not going to lead my parents to believe I'm moving to Florida I realize, but if they find out who you are and that you're going to school down there. They might make that leap. I don't know if they would or not."

"You love me?"

"Fuck, yes, Babe."

"I love you, too."

"Yeah?"

"God, yes! You think I'd talk about moving in with you next year if I didn't?"

He shrugged. He probably would've, but he could see where she wouldn't. Well, he probably would've before meeting her. Now he didn't think he would, but six months ago he probably would've lived with someone he didn't love if it meant getting out of his fucking house.

"Take me home, Princess."

"Okay," she said cautiously.

"If the lights are out in the living room you're coming in with me until you have to be back home."

"John…"

"They'd be passed out in bed. It's late enough that may be the case."

"All right. Why?"

"Why? I never want you to leave when you drop me off. You know that. I stay in your car with you as long as possible. Why are you asking me that?"

"I'm not having sex with you because you said you loved me!"

"I didn't ask you to have sex with me. Jesus fucking Christ. I just had my hand close to a very delicate spot. Did I push for more?"

"No," she said.

"Then quit saying that shit. Fuck!"

"Guys do that!"

"I'm not those guys! Why do you think I haven't said it before now?"

"I didn't realize you felt that way."

"I do. And just for the record."

"Okay?"

"I couldn't have sex with you tonight even if you wanted to."

"Why not?" she asked, sounding thoroughly confused.

"I don't have any rubbers."

"Oh," she said, blushing profusely at that.

"I had a couple in my wallet the night we met."

"And they're gone?"

"Jesus, don't get all excited and interrupt what I'm saying. I didn't use them! I gave them to a friend who needed them at a party later that same week. I haven't bought anymore since."

"Oh," she said.

"So, if that's not proof I don't have trying to get into your pants I don't know what is."

"Thank you."

"You're welcome. When you come down in August, though."

"Yeah?"

"I'll probably have bought some."

"John…"

"I just don't want you to see them and think it means I was actively using them while down there without you. I'm not going to have you want to and have nothing on me!"

"Have you gone nine months?"

"Well, sure."

"After you lost your virginity?"

"Uh, no, I don't think so. I don't know. It's not like I kept track."

"And you're sure you want to keep waiting…"

He slid his hands to either side of her head, drawing her to him.

"Did I not just go to a fucking mall with you and try on a tuxedo?"

"Yes," she whispered.

"Did I not just tell you I love you?"

"Yes."

"Then trust me I'm not upset about waiting. You are worth any amount of wait."

"But what if we break up."

"Then we break up," he shrugged. "You think I'm going to get mad because we break up and never had sex?"

"Moving to …"

"Not going to happen. It's not going to be easy, but we'll make it work. If I didn't think we could, if I thought we were going to hate each other come October. Trust me, I wouldn't be moving down there. I'm moving down there because you don't want to come back here next summer."

"I don't."

"So, I don't want to stay here and be a reason you think you have to come back here. You know? An obligation."

"You wouldn't…"

"That's not the only reason I'm moving my ass to Florida. Don't get me wrong. Can you do me a favor?"

"I can try."

"Quit worrying about whether or not I'm trying to have sex with you so much. Okay? I think about it. I won't deny that, but I hope I've proven the past few months that I can kiss you without ripping your clothes off and raping you or something. I could've pushed tonight even with your dad right upstairs. Over your shirt I could've moved my hand away real fast if we heard him coming downstairs."

"I know."

"So stop worrying about it. It'll happen when it happens. Maybe it won't be in September. Maybe it'll be a year from now. That's fine."

"You're too nice."

"Only because I love you. If I didn't no way in hell would I wait."

"When did you start?"

"Loving you?"

"Yeah," she whispered.

"December Fifteenth."

"Not that first night?"

"No, I went home that night and woke up the next morning thinking for certain it was a joke or something, your friends ganging up on me or something. 'Yeah, let's fool John into thinking Claire Standish would give him the time of day. Ha ha ha. That'd be real hilarious.' I'm sure they have done similar things."

"You believed it wasn't though?"

"The next day, yeah. I know you were sincere and didn't have a clue who I was. That's when I fell in love with you."

"Thank you," she whispered.

"And you?"

"Valentine's Day," she said. "Until then I wasn't sure, you know, how serious you were taking us. Me. Dating."

"Take me home, Princess. I don't want your mom or dad coming down here and kicking me out. They'd probably never let me come back if they had to do that."

"I'm only going inside with you if the lights are off."

"Funny, because I've dreamt of you in my house with the lights off more than a couple of times."

"That's not what I meant!"

"I know, but a guy can hope!"

"You'd really park in St. Luke's parking lot?"

"With you? I'd park wherever you stop your car."

"Huh."

"Is the good Catholic girl thinking on that?"

"St. Luke's isn't Catholic."

"I know! I'm not stupid enough to suggest parking in your church's parking lot."

She shook her head slightly at that. She offered him her hand before heading upstairs, which he took after a moment's hesitation.

"Thinking about the chances of my father seeing you holding my hand?"

"Yup."

"You still took it."

"I bet in a few months he'll think I'm doing more than holding your hand."

"I suspect you're probably right."

"I can handle your dad, Claire. Remember who you're talking to here."

"I know."

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***Chapter Five***
Word Count: 3,374

Claire took a break from dancing and taking advantage of people seeming to be breaking into smaller groups to go up and use the bathroom. There was a bathroom on this floor and one in the basement, but a few had the ability of using the bathrooms upstairs. Claire was one of them.

She had another reason for coming up here. Not that she was telling anyone about it. She hadn't been hugely surprised to see John show up at this party. Like the night they met over four months ago now he wasn't here for the party, though. Try as she might to get jealous at seeing him go upstairs with Heather and Lisa she wasn't. For some bizarre reason she trusted him. She knew what people would say if they found out they were dating. She'd made the arguments with herself the first few weeks, but he'd done absolutely nothing to this point to indicate she shouldn't trust him.

She used the bathroom, just in time to see Heather and Lisa leave the room they'd gone into with John. She was taking a chance no one else had gone into the room with them, but she hadn't seen anyone else come up here with the three of them. She wasn't even sure he knew she was going to be here tonight. She certainly had no clue he was going to show up at the party.

"Sorry, ladies. I'm not changing my mind. I told you no more money, no more stuff."

"Even for me?"

"Oh, hey," he said, turning to face her. She'd surprised him. "Sorry."

"It's all right," she said with a shrug, closing the door behind her. She rested against it, regarding him. He wasn't dressed as if he was expecting to see her. She could tell the difference. And how silly was that? God, she was absolutely and totally in love with him. It scared the ever-living shit out of her to look at someone and know that's how she felt about him, but she did.

"And the answer to your question is no. You know that already, though. I won't even ask you for what they were offering me either," he said. He held up the baggie of product. "You want?"

"I shouldn't," she said, mulling over what he'd just said about Heather and Lisa. "I've already got a bit of a buzz going."

"Ah," he said. He pulled an already rolled joint out of the front pocket of his flannel shirt. "You want to help me finish this one?"

"Sure," she said, stepping away from the door and closing the distance between them.

"It's better shit than the stuff Heather and Lisa were going to get."

She scoffed softly. "You were going to give me the stuff you sell?"

"Well, no, I guess I was just surprised to see you in here and you asked if the same went for you."

"You didn't know I was here?"

"I knew you were here the second I saw your car out on the street, Princess."

"I suppose," she said, leaning in to kiss his neck. She slid her arms around him, groaning softly at the taste and smell of him. He gasped a bit when her kisses turned to sucking and biting. She heard the sound of plastic hit the bed nearby and then he slid his arms around her, drawing her closer against him.

"What was that for?" he asked.

"A girl wants to kiss her boyfriend and you want to know why?"

"That was more than a kiss, babe," he said, sliding a hand to her hair and touching her there.

She shrugged a bit at that. She couldn't explain it. She just wanted to kiss him.

"I'm not complaining or anything. You know that."

"Good," she whispered, kissing him again.

She tugged his T-shirt out of the waist of his jeans and slid her hands along his stomach there. She groaned a bit as her tongue found his. God he felt good. Somehow he maneuvered them so they were on the bed. She'd managed while he was doing that to get his T-shirt pushed up as far as it could go without taking off the flannel shirt he wore.

He cried out softly as she broke the kiss, finding his stomach and kissing him there before working her way up slowly to his chest. She found a nipple, circling it with her tongue before moving to the other one and doing the same thing. He really seemed to like that, which was good because she had no idea what the fuck she was doing really when it got down to it. Until John she'd never even imagined Frenching a guy let alone doing anything else.

She slid her fingertips along his skin, teasing his sides and stomach before finding the waist of his jeans. She slid her hand into the waist of his jeans then, grazing the skin there with her fingertips. She groaned in frustration when he set a hand over hers once she'd gotten the top button undone.

"Christ, Claire, I'm eighteen years old and never thought what a heart attack might feel like, but I'm beginning to get the idea here."

"Why?"

"Why? Because what you're doing feels really good and I really like where you're headed with this."

"Yeah," she said, working her hand to the next button on his jeans. Of course he was wearing a pair that had the button fly tonight. "So?"

"I don't know how much you've had to drink."

"I'm not that wasted."

"I'd still feel a lot better about this if I'd seen how many cups of beer you've had."

"I just want …"

"I just want what you have in mind, too. Really badly."

"Well then?" She placed a kiss against his stomach then, moving so she was kneeling between his legs and could work the buttons on his jeans better as she slid her lips lower.

She worked another button, allowing her to slide her hand inside of his jeans easier while she kissed his belly.

He hissed a bit when her fingertips found the head of his shaft, touching him there.

"Is this what Heather and Lisa offered to do?"

He didn't answer right away. She was almost sure he wasn't going to. She couldn't blame him, she supposed.

"Uh yeah," he finally said.

"They'd probably be better at it…"

"Fuck better, Claire. Your hand is perilously close to giving me a hand job. You think I want anyone but you touching me like this?"

"I'm glad to know that," she whispered, moving to kiss his chest again. She didn't just kiss him there, though. His hand at her hair, almost begging her to keep sucking on his skin there told her he knew what she was doing just the same as she did.

She took great pleasure in knowing he'd change in the locker room on Monday for gym class and it would show.

***

He'd hit his head and landed in some bizarr-o world where Claire was this … assertive. Either that or he was having the mother of all dreams where the end result would be a wet dream. That was all he could think of as her fingertips moved along the head of his now erect shaft. Except she wasn't being unusually assertive. She was totally hesitant in what she was doing and bringing up Heather and Lisa doing it better.

He was sure she was right, but he absolutely didn't want better if it meant her hand wasn't the one in his pants at the moment. He had no idea when that had gotten to be the case, but somewhere over the past four months he'd learned he was not only a monogamous guy but liked being that way.

She finished leaving a hickey on his chest and slid her mouth down again. He forced his eyes to remain open, staring at the ceiling in an effort to assure himself he really was awake right now. Certainly, the scent of her perfume and the feel of her hair made him realize it was real, but her perfume he knew well enough by know that it starred in his dreams about her.

Another button on his fly undone accompanied by her hand sliding lower along his erection to where the entire head of it was in the palm of her hand and gone was the good guy in him. She was buzzed, no doubt, but she didn't seem falling down drunk.

He'd hope to catch her attention and get a minute or two alone with her when he saw her car parked on the street outside the house. He should've known she would be here, but they didn't really get into specifics about what they were doing on weekends when they weren't doing things together.

"Jesus fucking Christ," he said when he felt her tongue lick the tip of his dick. Evidently he'd closed his eyes despite wanting to keep them open because he hadn't been prepared for that at all. She didn't take the exclamation as a sign to stop or anything, thankfully.

It wasn't the greatest blow job he'd ever gotten. Hell, she never got beyond licking and sucking on the head. It was her doing it, though, so that in itself was exciting as fuck. Knowing her friends were downstairs with no clue what she was up here doing was exciting, too.

Exciting enough he got extremely close to finishing. They'd never talked about this. He hadn't realized they needed to so he had no idea how she felt about swallowing, but figured probably erring on the side of caution was in order and drew her away from the licking of him he was really enjoying.

"Hey," she murmured as he set his hand over his dick so that it would end up on his hand and stomach versus his jeans or anywhere on her. That'd be an interesting thing for her to explain.

"Sorry, wasn't sure what you wanted to do with that," he whispered, glancing around the room for anything he could use to clean himself off with. He spotted a box of Kleenex on the table next to the bed. He was stopped short of grabbing one by her kissing his stomach before reaching for some herself.

"Thanks," he said as she cleaned him off.

"I would have…"

"I'll know for next time. I didn't think you would."

"Why?"

He shrugged as she grabbed a couple more Kleenex's and wiped his hand off.

"Girls like you…"

"Forget what you think you know about girls like me and remember that while I may be a girl like that I'm still your girl."

He chuckled softly at that. "Yeah you are. I'm not about to forget that any time soon. Trust me."

"Good," she said.

"We should probably throw those in the toilet or something," he said as she dropped the Kleenex's on the floor by the bed.

"I know," she whispered, sliding next to him on the bed. "I will before I go back downstairs."

"All right," he said, no complaints about her laying here next to him for a while before she did that. "I," he said, not sure how to say what he was thinking.

"What?"

"You didn't even let me share in the fun," he said, figuring that was the safer way to broach the fact she'd just gone down on him seemingly expecting nothing from him in return.

"I know."

"Okay," he said. He didn't understand that at all.

"I just," she shrugged, leaning up to kiss him. "Wanted to."

"Far be it from me to sound like I'm not deeply happy you wanted to."

"Deeply, huh?"

He shifted so he was on top of her. "Want me to show you how deeply, Babe?"

"John," she whispered.

He leaned down and kissed her.

"Don't worry, Princess. I'm not pushing for more than you were willing to give tonight. Just offering."

"It's tempting."

"Yeah?" he asked.

"It is, but I should…"

"Yeah, I suppose," he said. She'd been gone for a while now. No one was banging on the door to get in or looking for her, but still. "Want to meet me at the park later?"

"I'm pretty sure I'm staying here tonight."

"Oh?"

"Yeah. I've had enough to drink…"

"Claire," he said cautiously.

"I'm not drunk!"

"All right," he said.

"I just don't want to drive home and a bunch of us are going to crash in the basement and stuff."

"Okay," he said not getting the appeal of that at all. Whatever floated her boat, he supposed.

"I'm glad I saw you come in."

"Me, too," he said. "You have no idea how glad I am right now."

She laughed softly.

"Okay, maybe you have a small idea."

"It didn't seem small to me."

"And I appreciate that you feel that way. I look forward to you exploring it in more detail at another time."

"Me, too."

He stood from the bed then and fixed his jeans. He ran a fingertip over the hickey she'd given him.

"What?" she asked. "Are you mad I did that?"

He scoffed.

"Why would I not get mad about the ones on my neck but get mad about this one?"

She shrugged.

"Not mad, Babe, just looking at it because it's from the first time you kissed me there."

"Oh," she said.

"Hopefully not the last…"

"No," she said.

"Good," he said, relieved to hear that. It'd serve him right, he supposed. Her doing that tonight and deciding afterward that she didn't like it or something so wouldn't again. "I'll wait a few minutes to leave after you've left, but anyone seeing me leave after you would just think we got high."

"I know," she said.

That bothered him, though, a little bit tonight especially in this house full of these people. He'd love nothing more than to let each and every one of them she was his. He didn't see that going over very well, though. A few more weeks and he wouldn't have to worry about Vernon or anything.

He watched her leave, taking the Kleenex's with her so she must have had to go to the bathroom anyway. He certainly could throw them away. He found the baggie he'd tossed onto the bed when she started kissing him and slid it into his pocket and then pulled out his book of matches. He lit one, hating to waste any part of the joint he'd offered to share with her but if someone walked in here after they both left and didn't smell smoke they might wonder.

And why should he care?

He flicked his wrist, putting the match out without lighting the joint.

Fuck it if anyone figured it out. He just didn't care anymore.

"Hey, Claire," John heard Joe say to Claire in the hall. Her back was to him so she didn't know he'd come out yet he guessed.

"Hey, Joe," she said.

"I tried to catch your attention earlier when you were dancing."

"Oh? I must not have seen you," she said.

"Well, I'm here now," he said, stepping a little closer.

"You are."

"You look nice."

"Thanks," she said.

"So, are you really going to go stag to prom?"

"I never said that I was doing that," she said. Is that what she'd told the guy? That she was going by herself? Or was that just what he (and everyone else) thought?

"Why'd you say no then?"

"Because I already had a date, Joe," she said.

"A date that no one in school knows about. Come on. I wasn't expecting you to get a room with me for the night or anything." He set his hand against her arm, rubbing it with the back of his fingers which made John clench his fist. She shook his hand off, though, John noticed.

"Ew," she said. John could just about imagine what she was thinking about that comment. He hadn't thought about them getting a room for the night, but after what just happened maybe he should think about it. He hadn't even realized that was truly a thing. People talked, sure, but people talked about a lot of things they didn't actually do. "Not in this lifetime."

"Hey," he said. "Come on. We're friends. You know I'm not a dick and we'd have a good time."

"Joe. Really, I have a date."

"Who?"

"My boyfriend."

He scoffed at that, frowning a bit but he wasn't looking at her while frowning. He noticed John finally, only because John was behind Claire now.

"You deaf, there, Joe," John said from behind her. "Seems she answered your question. Asking it again doesn't seem as though it's going to get you a different answer."

"Butt out, Bender. No one asked your opinion."

"Hey," Claire said.

"What? He's only here for one thing anyway. Who the fuck cares what he thinks?"

Claire glanced at John briefly, looking upset. He could imagine why, too. She'd said much the same thing that day of detention when they were pretending not to know or like one another. He knew she was just acting, though. So he didn't take what she said personally. Some of it hit a little too close to home, but he'd also let it slip to the others about her mom so fair was fair he supposed. (Not that anyone probably paid his comment about her mother any attention because they wouldn't have realized he actually knew anything about her mom.)

"Well, whether you care what I think doesn't really matter, does it? The lady told you she has other plans that night. Quit acting like a desperate asshole and ask someone else."

"What's it to you anyway?" Joe glanced at Claire then. "You doing that shit now?"

"Oh come on," she said. "Who doesn't once in a while?"

Joe didn't look too happy about that and John could honestly say he'd never seen Joe use any of the stuff he'd brought to parties.

"Besides he's who I'm going to prom with so I can do whatever I want to with him." Had she really just said that? By the look on Joe's face she sure had.

"Now I know you're on something. Be real, Claire," Joe said.

"I am being very real." She set her hand against John's, lacing her fingers through his. He let her and squeezed her hand back when she did that to his. She even settled against him a bit, not that John minded that in the least. He was surprised, though. Admitting she was going to prom with him was one thing, but this was…

Something else entirely.

"You sure you know what you're doing?" he whispered against her ear.

"No," she said.

"All right," he said.

"You're done here then?" she asked, glancing at John.

"Me? Yeah," he said, confused. He would've been done about thirty minutes ago if she hadn't come into the bedroom.

"Let's go then."

"I thought…" he said, cut off from saying more by the look she gave him. "Yeah, sure, whatever," he said.

"Night, Joe," she said.

"Princess," he said when they made their way downstairs where she found her coat and purse.

"Vernon isn't here," she said, reaching into her purse.

"I'm not worried about Vernon here, Babe. This is…"

She took her hand out of her purse, handing him her keys.

"You want me to drive, too?"

"For now. We can go to Denny's or something and then I'll take you home."

"Yeah, okay, whatever. I swear to God you wake up tomorrow regretting this…"

"I'm not going to regret it. You are my boyfriend. I am going to prom with you. Did I lie?"

"Well, no," he said. Put like that, no.

She leaned up and kissed him then.

"Take me to get something to eat."

"Gladly," he said, settling her keys in the palm of his hand as they walked out. A few noticed them walking out together, but not many and those that did probably weren't thinking too hard about what they were seeing. That would change once Joe got done talking to them John imagined.

Return to Top

***Chapter Six***
Word Count: 2,927

Claire groaned none too politely when her phone rang waking her up. She reached for it on her nightstand without opening her eyes.

"Hello," she murmured. God her mouth felt like sandpaper. She swallowed a couple of times, hoping that would help until she could go to the bathroom and get a glass of water.

'Morning.'

"John?" She knew it was him, there was no question it was because there was no other guy who called her really. There were certainly no other guys who made her feel the way she felt at the sound of their voice.

'Yeah.'

"Why are you calling so early?"

'Oh, you know, just because.'

She opened her eyes, glancing at her alarm clock. It wasn't that early, but considering she hadn't gotten in until after three and to bed until almost four it was dreadfully early.

"Is everything okay?"

'Well, if you wanted to do something today I wouldn't complain at the idea of getting out of here.'

"Yeah, sure, give me an hour to get ready."

'An hour?'

"Maybe not that long, but I drank more than I planned to last night so I might take a little longer."

'You didn't seem that drunk.'

"Well…"

'Hmm. Should I be asking if you remember everything about last night?'

"I remember."

'Do you regret any of it?'

"I don't," she said simply.

'You sure?'

"I told you after that day of detention I was willing to…"

'Actually, that part wasn't the part I was as concerned about hearing you may have been drunker than I realized you were.'

"Oh," she said. "No." She still had no idea what came over her last night, but she certainly didn't regret it.

'Well, that's good to hear. I'd love to, you know, return the favor at some point.'

"You would?"

'Uh yeah.'

"Really?"

'That surprises you?'

She shrugged.

'Why?'

"I don't know."

'Babe, I haven't hidden the fact I want…'

"I know. I just wasn't planning on that."

'I sure as hell wasn't either. I mean, I hoped I'd run into you there when I saw your car was there and everything. I didn't think it'd lead to me getting a blow job in your friend's bedroom.'

"Vernon's going to find out," she said, hoping to change the subject away from what she'd done. She didn't regret it, but she didn't want to think too hard on it either. God, she'd never thought of doing that with her mouth before in her life. The idea until not too long ago would have absolutely disgusted her.

'Maybe. Maybe not. I don't see any of your friends telling him who you're dating or going to prom with.'

"Probably not."

They were both quiet for a second as his parents argued in the background. That probably explained why he wanted to do something today if they were already arguing before noon.

"How did you hide it from me?" she asked.

'Hide what?' he asked, sounding confused. "Going to the party last night? You weren't exactly forthcoming with which party you were going to be at this weekend."

"No! Your parents'."

'Oh. We were on Christmas break. The bulk of our conversations were during the day when the 'rents were at work. Otherwise I made sure to call when they were out or so drunk they were passed out for the night.'

"But I called you sometimes."

'You did, and if you recall, not all of those conversations lasted as long as you would have liked.'

She did remember. She'd assumed those few times that he was just in a bad mood or in a hurry to get somewhere even if it had been later than she would've left the house.

'The last thing I wanted was to give you front-row seats to what my life was like when you seemed legitimately interested in me.'

"I would've been…"

'Yeah, you say that, but I still didn't want you privy to that stuff at first.'

"You were afraid I'd tell people?"

'The thought crossed my mind. I believed you were sincere and everything, but it was there in the back of my mind that you'd think twice about it or something and tell people.'

"Oh," she said.

'I don't anymore, obviously.'

"I hope not."

'You're not mad I thought that way, are you?'

"No, I guess I can't blame you."

'Thank you. Now go get ready so you can get me the fuck out of here.'

"Where are we going?"

'I don't give a shit. Wherever you want to go.'

"Wow, really?"

'Yes. Really.'

"I'm going to hold you to that."

'It can't possibly be worse than this.'

She laughed softly at that. "I'll be there as soon as I can."

'Thank you. Call first so I can just meet you down the street.'

"Yeah, I will," she said. She knew what to do by now. She'd call, let it ring twice and hang up. He never told her if his dad got upset about the hangup calls and he had her continue to do it. So either his dad got pissed off and John didn't care or his dad didn't care. Either was a possibility with John. There were times she thought he liked to do things to egg his dad on. He wasn't as bad about that now as he had been in January, but she still caught glimpses of conversations that made it seem as if John might have been provoking something. Why? She couldn't fathom his reasons. Negative attention was better than no attention?

She picked him up within an hour.

"You made pretty good time," he said, joining her in her car.

"I did," she said.

"You look nice, too. Thank you."

"You do, too," she said, regarding him. She ran a hand along his jaw. "You even shaved."

"I did," he said. He didn't always on weekends she'd come to realize. She leaned in and kissed his jaw then. She ran a thumb over the spot then, taking away the lipstick she'd left behind.

"Thank you."

"Yeah, I know you hate the scruff."

"I don't hate it…"

"No, but you worry that your skin will get all…"

"I do!"

He chuckled. "No whiskers to scratch you with today, Princess."

She put the car in gear then, heading toward downtown.

"Where are we going anyway?"

"You said anywhere," she said.

"I did. They were pretty bad this morning."

"I was surprised any of you were awake that early."

"They've been up since before seven and going at it since about eight."

"Why?"

He sighed.

"Mom found a phone number in the front of Dad's cigarettes."

"What?"

"I know, right? Who the fuck would be crazy enough to slip him her number? Evidently someone did, though, and Mom was freaking out trying to figure out who she was."

"Is your dad…"

"Cheating? I don't know. I wouldn't put it past him, but I don't know, Babe. I really don't know what he does with his time."

"So, why so early though?"

"She got up to go to the bathroom, I guess, and was going to grab a cigarette while going or something."

"Oh," Claire said.

"Yeah, I know, no one in your house takes a smoke into the john with them."

"Well, no one smokes in my house."

"You do," he said, sliding a hand over her knee.

"Sometimes, once in a while at a party or something."

"I like when you smoke with me." He liked her when she had a little buzz on. He liked her any which way, but she was less uptight when she had a bit of a high going.

"I didn't smoke with you last night."

"You're right, you didn't. If what happens last night happens the nights we're at a party together you don't smoke up at then by all means don't ever again."

"Very funny."

"I'm one hundred thousand percent positive I wasn't joking."

"John," she said, knowing she was blushing profusely.

"Fuck, Babe. It's nothing to be embarrassed about."

"To you maybe. I'm still wrapping my mind around the fact that I did that!"

"I am, too, believe me. I keep waiting to wake up and find out it was a dream."

"Do you come in your dreams?"

He laughed then.

"What?"

"Did you really just ask me that?"

"I did."

"Uh well, I haven't in years, no, but I've had a wet dream or two, sure."

"Huh. Never about me?"

"Fuck, no, I'm not thirteen anymore either, though. Besides I'd rather not waste it."

"Good save," she said.

He groaned and she knew he realized where she'd taken them.

"Good thing I wore a coat, I guess," he said.

"It's supposed to be like sixty today."

"That's still kind of cold to be walking around all day without a coat on."

"Are you going back on the anything?"

"No, Babe. I said whatever you wanted to do. If the zoo is what you want to do, let's go see the animals."

She found a spot to park on the street not too far from the zoo. She took his hand as they walked toward the entrance. It was a little cool, but there were people riding bikes and she didn't mind. John walked just about everywhere so she knew he didn't really either.

"I noticed you picked Lincoln Park versus Brookfield," he said as they made their way into the zoo. Being the end of April they weren't exactly packed to capacity or anything. She had no idea what made her think of it other than the idea of doing something that would take most of the day.

"I did."

"Why?"

"Why?" she asked, confused by the question.

"Yes. Why did you choose the free zoo over the one that has a charge to get in?"

"It wasn't a conscious decision really."

"Is it a monetary issue…?"

"No!" God, did he really think she thought like that.

"You sure? Because I can afford paying to get us into a zoo."

"I know you can. No, the cost barely even entered my mind other than I just figured if it's lame or too cold we won't be out money if we decide to leave right away."

"Okay," he said, drawing her against him. He stopped walking then and kissed her.

"What was that for?"

"Because you didn't ask questions."

"Questions?" What did that mean?

"I asked you to come get me and you did. Just like that, no questions asked. I'm sure you'd rather be home sleeping off your hangover."

"I'm not really hungover. I just wasn't ready to wake up when you called."

"Well, still."

"You're welcome. You can come over anytime. You know that. You don't need to call me and ask me to come get you."

"Your parents would love that."

"As long as it wasn't six in the morning or midnight they wouldn't be upset about it, John. They know you're my boyfriend. They'd probably rather we be at our house anyway."

"You'd have to explain to them why I was there so early on a Sunday."

"Would that bother you if I did explain it to them?"

"I don't know. I guess not."

"I mean, I wouldn't tell them anything you told me not to tell them."

"I know. No. You can tell them whatever you want. Except," he said.

"What?"

He shrugged, starting them toward the first animal exhibit.

"I don't know. You don't think they'll suspect what our plan is, do you?"

"Because of your home life? I doubt it. I doubt they think I'd entertain the notion of living with someone."

"Frankly, I'm surprised you're entertaining the notion myself and I'm not your parent."

"Why?"

He shrugged again, stepping behind her and sliding his arms around her as they watched the zebras. It wasn't crowded at all so they had plenty of room to see and didn't feel rushed to move out of anyone else's way. He brushed his mouth along her neck. She shivered a bit at that, which made him do it again.

"Because girls like you don't live with boyfriends, that's why," he whispered against her ear.

"Well, I wouldn't just live with you."

He chuckled softly, finding her ear causing her to shiver a bit.

"I know," he whispered. "I really, really want to play tit for tat."

"What?" she asked.

He chuckled. "That wasn't anything dirty. Well, not what you're probably thinking. I realize it sounded dirtier than I meant it to sound. I want to return the nice thing you did for me last night."

"I know," she whispered.

"You seemed surprised I wanted to earlier."

"I didn't think you would," she said with a shrug.

"Why not?"

"I don't know. You hear stories."

"What kind of stories am I supposed to hear exactly?"

"Not you. I just meant in general."

"And…"

"I listen to my friends talk."

"And what do they say?"

"That their boyfriends want them to do that to them all of the time but they never get it done to them."

"Lucky for you you have me for a boyfriend and if you gave me the chance I'd show you that I could do that to you all night long."

"Really?"

He chuckled, kissing her neck again. "You like that thought?"

"I don't know."

"You don't know?"

"How would I possibly know if I liked the thought of something I know nothing about?"

He sighed a bit. "You have an imagination. Thoughts. Ideas."

"I do."

"And?"

"I think I would."

"Well, that's a start," he said, groaning softly when she stepped away from him to take a picture.

The day wasn't bad honestly. The zoo wasn't packed so they were able to walk around and see whatever they wanted to. They were even able to come back and see the bears and monkeys more than once. The monkeys were his favorite, the bears were her favorite.

She'd used up an entire roll of film. Someone even offered to take a picture of them together. Other than the couple the woman had taken of them together most of the pictures she'd taken were of the animals. She'd gotten a couple of John. He hadn't wanted the first one taken at all, but she reasoned if people knew she had no reason not to have a picture of him in her locker. Certainly she was allowed to have pictures of him in her room and her dorm room next year.

She knew that comment would get him to give in. He didn't like the idea of her being on campus and him working. He wasn't sure what type of job he was going to get, but he was assuming it was going to be something that was going to be long hours during the week. Roofing and landscaping weren't nine-to-five jobs. He'd want the picture in her dorm room so other guys didn't think she was single.

It was kind of comical that he was jealous, except she was, too when it got down to it. There was one girl in particular who seemed pretty interested in him. John talked to most of the girls in his crowd the same so it was hard for her to tell whether he flirted back with her or not. What she considered flirting and he considered flirting were not the same thing. The funny thing was while she got jealous a few times she didn't accuse or question him. She trusted him. Moving to Florida was a hell of a long way to go for sex. She was pretty sure he could find women to move in with right after graduation if all he was looking for was a place to live in order to get out of his parents' house.

"What are you thinking?" She'd been watching him clench and unclench his fist around the roll of film the entire time they'd been waiting at this stoplight. Cool day or not it was almost six o'clock in the evening. The city was busy and traffic was bad.

He shrugged.

"John," she said cautiously.

"I don't know. I've never had my picture taken with a girl before."

"Be serious."

"I haven't. I mean, I've had friends who I've been in pictures with and they happened to be girls at parties and stuff."

"And…"

God. Maybe that had been too much for him. The realization that someone outside of school saw them together and thought they were a couple.

"You don't want me to have a picture of us?"

"No, Babe, that's not it at all. I just realized," he shrugged then and glanced out his window. For a second she thought she saw tears in his eyes, but it had to be a trick of the light. Still, though, in case that is what she saw she didn't press him to talk any sooner than he was ready to.

"I don't know that I've ever had anyone want a picture with me before."

"You can't be…"

And yet she knew he wouldn't lie about something like that.

"Well, I can assure you it won't be the last one I want to take with you."

"It was just strange, you know. That woman saw us and assumed."

"We were together."

"Natural assumption at the zoo, I suppose," he muttered and she couldn't help but laugh.

"You liked that?"

"I did," he whispered.

She moved her hand from the steering wheel to his that was holding the roll of film, sliding her fingers through his. "Me, too."

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***Part Seven***
Word Count: 2,157

June 1984

Dear Claire,

I've tried to call a couple of times, but you haven't been there when I did. I hung up before your machine picked up so that I wouldn't waste minutes on the phone card. I'm not good at writing letters. I had to buy a stamp from the woman at the office here so I can mail this to you.

Where to start?

I don't know.

I'm sorry?

You had to know deep down that inviting me was a bad idea for all concerned. I was willing to try, for your sake, but evidently Joe and his cohorts had other ideas.

And maybe that's why you're never home when I call. Maybe you are there, just not answering. I don't know. If that's the case. Well, then I guess I'm a fucking idiot for writing this letter. Never mind hauling my ass down here.

Obviously, because you're getting this, I made it down here all right. The cast on my arm sort of ruled out a roofing job, but I found something to at least get some money in my pocket for the time being. Once the cast comes off I have some things in the works.

Right now I'm working evenings at a liquor store from four until one, which is three to midnight your time. I suppose you know that already. I am usually home by two since I have to close up. Since I don't know when you're ever home and I frankly don't know if you're still talking to me since you haven't really talked to me since the night of Prom I'll give you my phone number here to my room. The walls are pretty thin and I don't have an answering machine, so if you call and I don't answer after three rings you can hang up.

Was I supposed to react different to Joe and his friends jumping me? I don't know. You haven't said you're mad at me, but I can't help but wonder what else it could be. I really did just defend myself. Well, and you. The things he said about you. Us. Whatever. Well, I couldn't just stand there and let him say those things and do nothing.

Anyway, I do love you and hope you get here soon. I know you can't get here any sooner than your move-in date allows you to, but I hope the time goes by fast. For both of us. There I wrote it down on paper so it's permanent. No take backs or anything, I guess. Of course, there's no guarantee I won't have second thoughts about mailing this on my way to work.

I hope to hear from you. I'll try calling tomorrow because I don't work in the evening so maybe I'll catch you in between doing whatever you do during the day and going out for the night. I hope you're having fun whatever you're doing.

Love,
John

He sealed up the envelope after writing his address and phone number at the bottom of the letter. He brought it to the office then.

"Hey, John."

"Hey, Beatrice. Can I give this to you to put with some outgoing mail?"

"You bet."

"Thanks," he said. "And whatever you do if I come back here and ask for it back don't give it to me."

She laughed a bit at that, which really sounded like more of a cackle as she exhaled the smoke from the drag she'd taken off her cigarette. He was almost positive she smoked up back here, too, but he'd never seen her so couldn't say.

As for him, he hadn't done that since moving down here. Not a long time or anything, but he really was trying to put all of the bad shit behind him with the move down here. A fresh start.

"Illinois, huh?"

"Yup," he said.

She wouldn't know that was where he was from as he'd taken a bus down here and bought a junker as soon as he'd had a job and a place to stay. He'd found out how much tags and stuff would cost before coming down here. The bus system wasn't near as good as it was back home, but he'd been prepared for that, too, and brought a bike down here Claire had given him. It'd been her brother's, who clearly wasn't using it anymore.

"Your air conditioner working all right?" she asked.

He scoffed at that. The air conditioner worked for about ten minutes and then quit for an hour and then would come back on, freezing the room to Popsicle status for another ten minutes before going out again.

"I take that as a no. You going to be around tomorrow?"

"Yeah, don't work so I should be."

"All right. I'll have Wren take a look at it."

"I'd appreciate it."

She was nice to him because he'd paid for a month up front. Unlike most of the clientele here that paid by the hour John was actually here to live. Most of the others who got rooms here from what John could decipher were here for drugs or sex. Sometimes, a lot of the times, both. She agreed to wash his sheets and towels twice a week. He assured her he could keep the rest of the room clean. She was just grateful, he was pretty sure to have one less room to worry about burning the place down for however long he was here.

The rent was cheap, though. He'd already gone to talk to the landscaper he'd spoken to before moving down. He assured him once the cast came off John could talk to him. The liquor store wasn't a great job, didn't pay much but all he had to do was check people out. He helped out stocking the bottles of liquor and wine, but he couldn't do a lot of the heavy lifting. Fine by him because as soon as the cast came off he was gone from there. He hated dealing with the public, having to be nice and smile for nine hours a night.

Since he was a genuine customer Beatrice and Wren, who owned the place together, tried not to rent out the room next to his unless they were full. That hadn't happened more than a couple of times so far, so he was grateful. The walls just weren't that thick. The drug use he didn't give a shit about, but listening to someone else getting laid when it'd been fucking months since he'd done anything was bordering on cruel and unusual.

The night she'd given him the blow job had been the last night anything like that had happened between them. He'd sort of assumed something would happen on prom night, but her friends had other plans for him. Almost three weeks later and he still couldn't believe he'd been so stupid as to not suspect, assume they'd do something. Her girlfriends, oddly, hadn't been so bad when they'd found out they were dating. The guys, though, man, they'd taken making his life a living hell the last month or so of school to a new level.

Only positive, Vernon had never found out.

"Is there a chance you're going to come back in here and ask me to give this back to you?"

"Possibly."

"How about I give it Wren then to take with him and drop at a box? He's heading out in about twenty minutes, I think."

"That would work. Thanks." He was about to sleep for a while before work, which she knew. He didn't sleep real well. Thin walls aside he was in a new room for the first time in his life. It was hot during the day and the air conditioning sucked. He'd bought a fan yesterday on his way to work and hoped that would help a bit. He was also getting used to a schedule other than school. Staying up until one or two in the morning wasn't unusually crazy for him, but his body was still used to waking up at six or so every day. So, naps after lunch were a thing for him.

"Sure. How's the arm?"

He shrugged. It sucked. It was sweaty and uncomfortable, but he'd manage because he was keeping focused on the fact he'd gotten out. Mostly intact. His mom had thrown a wrench into things a bit by showing for his graduation. He hadn't expected that. She was the reason he hadn't talked to Claire since the night of prom. Who knew she had it in her to worry and fret over him after so many years of doing a pretty good job of sucking as a mother?

Come home with a broken arm and beat to shit by someone not his father and she was all over him like the plague or something.

He'd assumed it would be Claire driving him down to the bus station after the ceremony when he originally had the idea of leaving right from the school. He hadn't thought it through, though, and taken into account things like her parents would give her a graduation party.

He'd debated about showing up, but he didn't want anyone to lay claim to seeing him after the actual ceremony. So, he'd ridden the bike she'd given him to the train station and gotten to the bus station downtown that way. He'd been shocked the locker he'd put his duffel in hadn't been jimmied open, but everything was intact.

It had been entirely too easy.

And in an odd sort of way, heartbreaking.

He'd left everything behind except some clothes and a few belongings that meant something to him. There weren't many, and that had sort of depressed him as he'd gotten his plan and things together over the months leading up to now.

"I'm looking forward to getting the cast off," he replied simply.

There was that laugh/cackle again.

"Say," she said, holding the letter up again.

"Yeah?"

"This the pretty girl you're in the picture with in your room?"

"Yeah," John said. He had a copy of a picture from their day at the zoo back in April on his nightstand by his bed. He supposed she'd seen it changing his sheets. They'd actually had a few others taken together over the month or so between that day and prom. He supposed she'd have a few good ones from before prom to at least look back on the night positively before they'd gotten to the actual dance.

"I'll make sure Wren drops it off first thing when he leaves."

"Thanks," he said.

"You bet. Our phones dial out, you know," she said, regarding him after another too-long perusal of the envelope.

"I've tried to call her, she's never around."

"Purposely?"

"I'm not sure," he said.

"The letter, huh?"

"Yup," he said. "Anyway, thanks," he said.

"Anytime, hun, you know that."

He did, too. She'd been pretty nice so far considering the motel they ran was barely one-step up from a roach motel. Their usual clientele weren't coming here for the ambiance or a comfortable stay.

He made his way across the parking lot to his room. It was already hotter than he was used to and it was only the end of June. He guessed he was in for a rude awakening the next couple of months before she got down here.

Assuming he'd see her when she got down here. Wouldn't that be ironic? She'd been worried he'd move down here and regret it, which was one of the reasons nothing happened between them but the one night. Here he was, regretting nothing, and not at all sure if he was going to see her when she got down here in two months' time.

He tried to convince himself she couldn't possibly be mad at him. He didn't pick the fight. He didn't jump the guys. She was, though, a woman and they weren't always rational when it came to things. Her night had been ruined and he wasn't sure she'd be able to see things clearly enough to cast the blame where it belonged instead of at his feet because he was the common denominator of the problem.

If he ever saw Joe away from a school function and not in a tuxedo he'd spent a couple hundred dollars to rent… Not that that was every going to happen.

He kicked off his shoes, chuckling softly at the fact the air conditioner seemed to be working at the moment. He still turned the fan on because his luck it'd quit midway through his nap and he'd wake up needing another shower.

She should get the letter by the end of the week he imagined, so hopefully she'd call over the weekend. It was cheaper to call on weekends so they could talk as long as they wanted. He hoped that's how it would go anyway.

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***Part Eight***
Word Count: 3,657

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.

"I know."

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."

"Uh, Babe…"

"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.

"For what?"

"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."

"Why?"

"Looking like you do, no one would mistake you for a working girl or anything, but I'd rather not risk it."

"Me either."

He glanced outside then, noticing her car was out there.

"You drove?"

"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?"

"Until Saturday."

"Not nearly long enough. Please tell me you brought clothes that are usable in Florida."

"Usable?"

"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 know."

"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."

"I know."

"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."

"Well, no…"

"So?"

"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."

"I guess."

"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.

"No!"

"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."

"I'm glad."

"So," he said, setting his bag on a chair next to the door.

"Yes?"

"Two beds," he said.

"Yeah."

"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 bet."

"I wasn't planning on having sex with you that night. You do know that, right?"

"I do."

"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."

"Very glad?"

"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."

"Oh."

"There's fireworks tomorrow night. You want to go to those?"

"Sure."

"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.

"Yup."

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."

"Why?"

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…"

"No!"

"Ever?"

"Not tonight."

"Afraid you'll hear them and take advantage of me?"

"Yes."

"Me, too, can't you tell?"

"Uh huh."

"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."

"Beatrice?"

"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.

"Jealous?"

"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 agree."

"I was afraid once I got here, to the room I mean, that you'd have second thoughts about doing this."

"Six weeks…"

"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."

"Me, too."

"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."

"Me, too."

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."

"Really?"

"When would I have?"

"But you've…"

"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."

"Then, yes."

"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."

"Oh."

"I'm not sure we'd be here if we'd met at a different party, though."

"Why?"

"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.

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***Chapter Nine***
Word Count: 3,966

It was still dark out when he woke up. He noticed two things almost immediately. One was the air conditioner ran like it was supposed to, which meant the room was comfortable if not on the chilly side. Two was that Claire was sleeping as far away from him on the bed as she could get and still be in the same bed.

He had asked her about the sleeping arrangements. Right? He hadn't imagined asking her intentions since there were two beds in the room. He was pretty sure he had actually asked the question. No, he knew he had because that was when she'd drawn the covers away, seeming to invite him into the bed with her.

Was she scared of him? Scared of sleeping with him? Didn't really want to sleep with him after all, but didn't want to go to the other bed?

He got up to go to the bathroom, leaving the light on in there while he washed up and got a glass of water at the sink. He leaned against the counter then not sure what he was supposed to do. He didn't want her uncomfortable. Maybe the reality of sleeping with him didn't measure up to the image she'd had of it. He couldn't blame her, he supposed.

He still wasn't entirely sure what she saw in him. He didn't think he was a bad guy or anything, knew he was decent looking, and all of that stuff. Not being a bad guy and being decent looking seemed to be underachieving as far as Claire went.

Yet, here they were.

"Are you okay?" she murmured from the bed.

"Yeah," he said.

"Is your arm okay?"

"My arm?" he asked.

"Yes, is it bothering you or something? I have aspirin if you need some."

"No. I'm fine." The working air conditioning helped his arm feel a lot better actually. He felt like he sweat like crazy with the cast on some days. Most days.

"Okay," she said. "Why are you taking so long then?"

"Just thinking, I guess," he said.

"About?" she asked. She sat up in bed then he noticed. She brought her knees up, gathering them to her chest and putting her arms around them.

"I don't know. Are you sure you want me in that bed with you?"

"Yes, why?"

"I don't know. I woke up and you were practically at the edge of the bed. I just thought maybe it wasn't what you wanted after all."

"No," she said with a shrug. "I'm just not used to it I guess. I don't know. I'm afraid I'll hurt you."

He scoffed at that.

"Not in that way. Not intentionally. If I bump your arm or something."

"You're on the other side of my cast."

"I know, but I still worry," she said.

Valid concerns perhaps. He wasn't sure because he'd never slept next to someone with or without a broken arm to know how much bumping into someone may jostle them.

"You're also here without your parents' knowledge. On a lie more or less."

"I think my mom has an idea."

"Oh?" he asked.

"Yeah. She was surprised you weren't at my graduation party."

"Ah," he said, tossing the towel he used to dry his hand off with onto the counter. "I thought about going, but…"

"I know," she said. "I get it, but I think Mom knows something."

"Well, what can she say? She's not going to pull you out of school down here or anything." He thought on that for a minute. Her mom likely could do that if she put her mind to it. "Is she?"

"No," Claire said.

"Then there's not a whole lot to say. It doesn't matter what she thinks she knows. You'll have your dorm room. We're not living together yet."

"No, I know, and she'll figure it out anyway when she comes down here and sees you."

"Eventually, yes."

"She, uh, made me go see a doctor."

"Okay," John said. "Why?"

"For birth control."

"Oh," he said. "Really?" That surprised the hell out of him.

"Uh huh," she said.

"When was this?"

"In April. Right before I picked out my dress. After I told her we were going."

He supposed that was appropriate timing. Kids thought they were all discreet and stuff getting hotel rooms and what not, and most parents seemed to blow off any knowledge of what their kids were really up to that weekend. He supposed having an older brother her parents had been through it once before, and from the other perspective. It wasn't their daughter going to prom that night.

"Wow. So. April?" That was months ago now that she'd gone shopping for her dress. More than two anyway because it was a couple of weeks after the day of detention. He supposed, too, that was four months into things for them, but still kind of soon to be thinking they'd be having sex if her mom had any clue what kind of girl Claire was.

"Yeah. She wanted me protected for prom. I mean, she didn't say that outright, but that's what she was getting at."

He scoffed at that. "She didn't trust me to be prepared for that?"

"I think she wanted to be sure."

"No grandkids for her then? Or is it just the possibility of my being the father that has her cautious?"

"No! She just said she wanted to be sure I didn't have to worry."

"Huh," he said. He never knew moms did that sort of thing. "Okay."

"It just makes me think she knows you didn't just disappear on me."

"Well, I didn't."

"I know, but she knows me as much as I hate to admit it."

"So, we aren't fooling her is what you're saying?"

"I don't know. She hasn't said anything, but like I said she'll figure it out when she sees you."

He made his way to the bed then.

"Now you are really making me want to beat the shit out of Joe the next time I see him."

"Why?" she asked with a slight frown.

"You're here. You're telling me you're on some sort of birth control. I can't do anything about taking advantage of that."

"Well…"

"I really don't want our first time to be with me having such a severe handicap. Not being able to use an arm is a pretty big one."

"I know."

"So. What is it anyway?"

"The pill."

"I suppose that makes the most sense."

"Have you ever…"

"No," he said with a shake of his head as he joined her on the bed. "Never."

"No?" She moved closer to him, which he liked a lot.

"No! I'm not stupid."

"I know, but if you're at a party and drunk or something…"

"I've never been that drunk. It's not like I was getting laid every weekend or anything."

"That's a relief."

"Truthfully?" he asked, kissing the top of her head.

"Sure," she said.

"There's only been maybe five times."

"Maybe?"

"Well, I'd say two times, but they were a few hours apart so you may think…"

"I don't want to think about it at all."

"I just told you that I have less than a handful of experiences and you're mad?"

"I'm not mad. I'd just rather not think about it."

"Well, like I said that day of detention you want me to have a clue what I'm doing, don't you?"

She shrugged.

"Not that I'm a pro or anything, but. You know. I look forward to getting lots of practice with you."

"Me, too," she whispered. She kissed his chest then. "Why are you wearing your shirt?"

"I don't know."

"You don't have to."

"I wasn't sure you were ready for me to be half naked." He sat up a bit more then to do that. Thing about the stupid cast, getting a shirt on and off wasn't as easy as it was usually. She helped a little though.

"Well, I've seen the other half," she said, touching his shoulder. He shivered a bit. It wasn't that cold, but her touching him like this combined with the cooler air than he was used to certainly caused a reaction in him.

"Not really. It was dark in that room that night," he said with a soft chuckle.

"Okay. I tasted the other half."

He laughed then.

"Why are you laughing at me?"

"I don't know. I'm not. It's just that's the last thing I ever expected to come out of your pristine mouth, Princess."

"Why? I did?"

"Well, yeah. You did, surprised the fuck out of me, too, honestly."

"I surprised myself."

"Yeah?"

"Yes."

"You mean you didn't come in there with that in mind?"

"No," she said.

"What did you come in there for?" He'd never asked before because he was sort of afraid of the answer. He wasn't sure if she'd come in there to check up on him or what. He was pretty sure by that point she trusted him, but they'd never talked about it really. Her trusting him with things he did at parties because she had to know he went to rooms with people sometimes.

She shrugged, running a finger along his chest.

"I don't know. I was surprised to see you. I thought it would be fun to see you right in front of everybody for a change."

"Well, I'm not complaining and I thoroughly enjoyed myself."

"Thoroughly?"

"Well, yeah. I mean, I only stopped to be considerate. I promise you the next time I won't pull out of your mouth."

"Okay."

"It's so odd to be laying here talking to you like this."

"Why?"

He shrugged.

"I don't know. It just is. First of all, it's you I'm talking to about it. Second, we're laying in a bed together and …"

"You'd rather be doing than talking about it?"

"Well, yeah," he admitted. That didn't make him a jerk, did it? He hoped not.

"Me, too."

"Really?"

"Yes," she whispered.

"Why so quiet?"

She shrugged.

"It's okay to talk about it, you know that, right?"

"I know, it's just not a conversation I ever thought I'd be having."

"Ever?"

"Well, no. Why would I?"

"Well, I don't know. I'd hope you'd talk about it with whoever you were planning on doing it with."

"Really? And you've talked to…"

"No, but they weren't you and I wasn't planning on spending the rest of my life with them. This is you we're talking about and I'd presume me or not whoever you were planning on doing that with you'd be thinking of a life with."

"Yes," she said.

"So, I'd hope you'd have some say. Talk about it. Tell me if you do or don't like something."

"I liked doing that."

"I am more grateful to hear that then words can adequately say."

She laughed then, kissing his chest. She shifted a bit, but didn't move away from him or draw her hand away from his stomach where she'd set it.

"Going back to sleep now?"

"I think so," she whispered with a yawn.

"Yeah. Sleep as late as you need to."

"What about you?"

"I still have a hard time sleeping past eight."

"Eight o'clock in the morning?"

"Yes."

"Why?"

"I wish I knew. I'd love to be a bum and sleep until whenever, but I guess I'm just not wired that way."

"You slept later than that on weekends."

"Not much later, Mom and Dad wouldn't let me even if I wanted to."

"I suppose."

It wasn't because they wouldn't let John sleep late or anything. They would wake up and go about their day, which was never quiet. No matter what they were doing with their morning. Sure, he stayed in his room on weekends as much as possible, but that was avoiding them. He wasn't sleeping.

"I'll buy you breakfast whenever we do get going."

"I like the sound of that."

"Me, too," he admitted. He was living pretty frugally. Pop-Tarts were his usual breakfast. He had cereal that he ate dry because he had no way to keep milk cool consistently. He kept bread and peanut butter in his room. He had a cooler that he kept stocked with pop and ice. The break room at work had a fridge and freezer so he kept some things there to heat up in the microwave there while he was at work. It was a fucking newsworthy event for him to get a hot, square meal so he looked forward to wherever she wanted to go.

She couldn't believe he was in bed with her sleeping. He seemed unsure she really wanted him here in bed with her. She did. Totally. It was just so unbelievably scary.

She acted all cool about driving down here and what her parents would do to her, but in truth she wasn't at all sure how they were going to react to her sudden decision to visit Tallahassee before August. Would they ground her? No. Would they pull her out of school? No. Would they be disappointed and make her last couple of months miserable? Possibly.

He was right. She'd been absolutely livid with him for a while after prom. Then she'd been even more mad at all of her friends' comments about him being absent from her graduation party. They all thought it was because of Joe and his friends that John was absent. She wanted to tell them, to explain, but couldn't. That had been frustrating. If prom and graduation weren't so close together she probably would have had time to process prom better, but that followed right after people talking about how he clearly couldn't handle being her boyfriend after all just left her mad. It took her a while to realize she was madder at them then at him. He hadn't done anything wrong. He hadn't even fought back until Joe's best friend, Jake, said some obscene things.

She'd gotten his messages, meant to call back but just wasn't sure what to say at first. He had a broken arm because of her friends. He couldn't get the job he'd been planning on getting when he got to Florida because some idiot she thought was her friend couldn't accept she actually had a boyfriend she liked. No one else knew him like she did because they didn't want to know him. Even his friends really, he admitted that freely.

She ran a fingertip along his side. She'd never seen him without a shirt on before. She couldn't really see now truthfully because it was pretty dark in here with the curtains closed. She knew what she felt, though. The scars weren't as bad as what she had pictured, which she wasn't sure was good or bad that she'd imagined worse.

She drew the covers away a bit, shifting a bit so she could kiss his chest and one of the marks she felt there.

"Hey," he said gruffly when she was on about the third or fourth scar.

She didn't stop, working her way lower along his stomach.

"Fuck," he murmured when she slid her hand into his shorts.

She'd wanted to do this again after that night, but there just wasn't any time or place to be alone again. Any party they went to together people watched them like hawks for some reason. As if she and John and what they did together was that interesting. Evidently it was.

She leaned up then, kissing him as she touched him. She hadn't touched him much that night. She didn't know what to do really, and still didn't. She wanted to learn, though. That was part of the reason why she hadn't stayed mad at him after prom. His fault or not was irrelevant. She knew there was no one else she wanted to do these things with. Bad reason to base being upset with him? Maybe, but she knew what she felt.

Until John she'd assumed she was asexual or that there was something very wrong with her. Both were pretty frightening in a world where everyone around her wanted into one another's pants. She'd had boyfriends before, but never anyone she wanted to hold hands with let alone kiss. Her friends would talk about things and Claire never understood those conversations. She did now, though.

Obviously she wasn't asexual and there was absolutely nothing wrong with her. She'd just been waiting for the right guy.

Her guy.

She could admit, freely, he was not at all what she imagined he'd be growing up and picturing who she'd fall in love with. She'd pictured someone more like her dad, she supposed. Really, though, was it any wonder she went and fell in love with someone not at all like her father? She didn't want to be like her parents any more than John wanted to be like his.

She mewled into the kiss as he parted his lips at the same time she did. She loved when that happened, proof that neither of them wanted to wait another second longer at the same exact moment. She slid her fingertips along his shaft not really sure there was a right or wrong way to do this. He'd tell her if she was doing it wrong, wouldn't he? He certainly wasn't kissing her as if he didn't like what she was doing.

He slid his hand along her back and hip before cupping her ass. She hadn't really thought about what sleeping with him would be like. Him here, next to her, able to give into her curiosities about him. Them. Together. And she was curious enough to want to know everything about him. Her mind just hadn't taken her that far even though they'd talked pretty freely about the fact neither wanted her to spend many nights at her dorm room.

She slid her hand out of his shorts and he groaned against their kiss. She laughed softly.

"It's not funny. I liked that. A lot."

"Me, too," she whispered.

"Then why are you stopping?"

She kissed him again, using her hand at the waist of his shorts to push them down a bit.

"You can do that, too," she murmured.

"Do what?" he asked.

She pressed herself against his hand at her ass. Evidently he knew what she meant and she didn't need to say it twice because he slid his hand to her shorts and mirrored what she was doing to his. She broke the kiss then, drawing away from him so she could slide out of the bed.

"Where are you going?" He didn't sound so tough or confident now.

She stepped out of her shorts before moving to remove his the rest of the way off.

"Claire," he whispered.

"Yeah?"

"Not that I'm complaining or to sound like an ungrateful asshole, but you do remember I have kind of a handicap right now, right?"

"I do," she whispered.

"Okay," he said, sounding cautious. "I mean, not that sleeping next to you like this will be bad or anything, but I wouldn't expect him to, you know, get soft any time soon."

"I'm not expecting him to."

"Okay," he said.

She almost wished the lights were on just then. Almost. She was pretty sure she wouldn't be doing this right now if the lights were on or if it was light out. She knew the sun would be coming up soon, but it wasn't yet so it was still dark in the room, allowing her to be bolder than she ever thought she would be.

She climbed back onto the bed, straddling him instead of lying next to him as she had been until a second ago. She found his shaft again, taking it into her hand and stroking him.

"You did say we could this way, right?"

"Yeah, sure," he whispered. "I mean, I assume it'll work."

"You don't know?"

He scoffed and she gave a soft moan as he slid a fingertip along her nub and lower between her folds.

"No."

"You don't need your arm this way?"

"I imagine not, no, not both of them anyway," he whispered, voice catching a bit as he slid his fingertip inside of her.

"You mean you've never…"

"No," he said quickly.

It was on the tip of her tongue to say 'really'. She refrained from asking, though. He wouldn't lie to her. There was no need. She knew he'd had sex before. What difference would it make what position he'd done?

She moved her hips a bit then, sliding his tip along her slit. They were both breathing pretty heavily when she finally worked the tip of him inside of her. He helped, too, but let her do the work after that.

"What are you doing?" she asked him when she heard him mumbling. He had to be talking to himself because she couldn't hear him well enough to understand him.

"Trying to distract myself."

"Why?"

"From coming too fast!"

"Can't you just enjoy?"

"I am! Too damned much. I want you to enjoy first, though, you know what I mean, Babe?"

"Oh," she said. She leaned down to kiss his neck and shoulder as he moved his fingers along her nub between their bodies. She didn't stop licking and sucking on the spot until a while after they'd both finished.

"That was nice," she whispered, kissing his ear.

"Uh, yeah," he said with a soft chuckle. "I definitely look forward to doing that when I have both hands."

"Yeah?"

"Uh huh. So I can touch more of you."

"You touched enough of me."

"That's good to know. Obviously, you did, too."

She laughed softly. "Obviously."

She rested her head against his shoulder then, rubbing a hand along his chest and arm. She stopped when she met the top of the cast and found his shoulder and side then.

"What are you doing?" she asked when he started to move.

"Just getting the blankets so you don't get cold."

"I'm not cold!"

"I can attest to how fucking hot you are, Claire, but I want you to stay that way."

"Yeah?"

"And I don't want you to move from where you are."

"I can't sleep like this."

"Why not?"

"I don't know," she said.

"Stay then until you fell that you have to move," he said. "I like you here."

"Me, too."

"You surprised me, Princess."

"Why? And was it a good surprise?"

"Very good, yes," he said with a laugh, kissing the top of her head. "As far as why," he shrugged. "I don't know, I didn't think you'd want to do that let alone the first time."

"Why?"

"I don't know! I just know that later when we do it again."

"We're doing it again?"

He scoffed. "Damn straight we are."

"And what about later?"

"I call the lights on."

"Why?"

"Leave the lights on later and then you'll know why."

"Okay," she said cautiously. She wasn't sure at all what she'd agreed to, but it couldn't be bad. She'd thought a moment ago she'd sort of like to have them on to see herself.

He laughed softly.

"Now you are laughing at me."

"No, just imagining what you're thinking. It's nothing bad. I can't touch you as I'd like and hopefully as you'd like. At least that way I could, you know, see you. That's supposed to be part of the fun of that position."

"It is, huh?"

"So I've heard."

"And you want to find out?"

"Well, yeah, sure, with you."

"That wasn't what I was asking."

"Well, I wasn't sure. Yes, I want to find out and have first-hand knowledge of these rumors."

"Okay."

"Yeah?"

"I said okay even before you explained."

"I know."

"So, yeah, okay."

"All right."

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