John got back to his room at the time Sean was leaving his. Judging by the fact he was not just dressed but shaved John took that to mean he was heading somewhere versus just to get something to eat or something like that.
"Where are you off to?" he asked.
"I, uh," Sean said, blushing.
"Missy called. She is heading to the carnival."
"Oh," John said.
"She asked if I wanted to meet her there."
"Why?" John asked.
"Yes, why does she want you to meet her there?"
"Uh, I don't know. What kind of question is that?"
John rested his head against the wall for a second. Good question. Did he really want an answer?
"You actually like her?" he asked.
"I don't know. She's hot. She seems to at least know something about music."
"Yeah, she mentioned that," John said, choosing to ignore the her being hot part of that. His grandfather had been real good John knew. He knew his dad had played, but chose not to pursue any talent he may have had. John didn't even know if his dad had been any good. John remember picking up his grandpa's guitar for the first time and it hadn't been played in years before that.
"Yeah," John said, thinking over their conversation. She'd been trying to talk to him, but how did she know? Did she know? That was a leap. Why would she even guess who he was? "You realize you don't live in Chicago, right?"
"You don't live in Chicago. We're going to get on a plane out of here tomorrow."
"Just making sure."
"Since when have you cared what we do?"
John shrugged. "Since when have you had the chance to spend almost a week with one girl?"
Sean shrugged a little at that. They didn't have a week to spend with one girl often. Sean was a pretty good guy, though, who didn't have a girlfriend back home or anything. Would he be hanging out with Melissa if he did have a girl back home? John couldn't say for sure, but didn't think he would.
"Want a ride?" he asked.
"Really?" Sean asked. It wasn't a crazy long walk to the carnival or anything, but it was far enough.
"Yup. I'm not asking twice, though, so if you don't I'm going into my room to crash."
"Yeah, I'm sorry I woke you earlier."
"It's all right. Don't make a habit of it, though, that'd be better than a sorry."
"I didn't mean…"
"Don't worry about it. Really."
Sean fell into step with John.
"So, you have a sudden desire to go?"
"Nope," John said.
"I know you're not going for the beer," Sean said.
"You're not stupid, I'll give you that," John replied.
"Maybe I really want some grilled corn."
"Shut up," Sean said.
John grunted softly.
"Really? Corn?" Sean asked with a frown when they got to the rental car John had used earlier.
"Shut up, Sean," he said. "Didn't they teach you not to piss off your gift horse?"
"I'm teaching you now. Don't piss off your gift horse."
"I don't think…"
"I don't care what the real saying is."
"Yeah, sure, whatever, John," Sean said with a slight frown.
Fuck. Why the hell was he busting the kid's balls like this? He had absolutely no reason to talk like that to him.
"Sorry," John said.
"It's okay. No problem," Sean said, but John knew it was a problem. Sean was just too nice of a kid to say so. John really wasn't in a position to elaborate because he wasn't even sure where to begin. Oh by the way the girl you met is my daughter who I never met sounded a little too farfetched even to him.
"So, has Missy said anything about what she does here in Shermer?"
"No," he said.
"Not really," Sean said. John was guessing she'd said more than Sean was letting on. They hadn't spent most of a week together and talked about nothing.
"She mentioned her grandparents," John said, hoping Sean wouldn't think it was strange he was prying.
"Only that she was staying with them."
"Staying with them?"
Did Claire not live in Shermer any longer? Her bank account was still here because he sent money to it every month, but he supposed she could live in any suburb and still bank at the same bank. Or keep that one just for that. It was not like they talked to where she'd know how to really get a hold of him to change her information.
And then his thoughts took a darker turn. Was Claire all right? Was she staying with Mr. and Mrs. Standish because something had happened to her mom? And why the fuck did that thought … upset him, for lack of a better emotion to put with the feeling in his gut, after all of these years.
"Yeah," he shrugged. "I don't know," he shrugged.
Probably she told him more than that if John knew anything about women. Sean just hadn't been paying attention or hadn't cared enough to really listen.
John pulled up at the lesser used entrance to the grounds the carnival was held on every year.
"You're not coming," Sean said with a slight frown when he realized John wasn't parking.
"Nope," John said.
"Oh," the other guy said.
"Have fun," John said. It was tempting, but he wasn't sure having any more contact with her than he'd already had was a good idea. So, as soon as Sean got out of the car John headed back to the hotel. He had something in his stuff to help him sleep if he couldn't fall back to sleep on his own.
He pulled the local phone book out of the nightstand drawer when he got back to his room, taking a pull from his beer as he paged through it to the S pages. He ran a finger along the names once he'd found ST.
Standish, Christopher – no surprise big brother lived in Shermer
Standish, Frank – John already knew that bit of information
No Claire. No C.
He pulled his cell phone out and dialed 411.
No Claire or just C Standish in the surrounding area. It wasn't like when they were kids and you could ask about the entire Chicago area because there'd been only one area code back then. Now there were a bunch of them covering the suburbs and areas.
Did she not even live in Illinois anymore? John found it hard to believe she'd move far from her parents. She hadn't loved them exactly, but he didn't see her cutting Mommy and Daddy out of her life completely. She just wasn't the type.
He grabbed his beer and cell phone before standing from the bed. He made sure he had his room key and left the room, heading to Jazmin's room.
"Hey, John," she said. She didn't look as though he'd woken her, but she wasn't ready for the day either. She had a pretty fresh hickey on the side of her neck, too. John couldn't help but chuckle a bit at that. It hadn't been there before the show last night.
"Hey. Sorry to interrupt. I, uh, have a favor to ask."
"You have that laptop of yours?"
"Yeah," she asked with a frown. John didn't use computers any more than he had to. He certainly didn't have a laptop that he brought with him everywhere they went. He had a computer at home and everything, but everyone in the band knew he didn't use it more than he had to.
"Can I borrow it? Or give me a few minutes to look something up?" He was betting borrowing it was going to win out, but he wanted to at least make the offer that didn't leave her for any length of time without the computer.
"Sure," she said. "Hang on a second." She held the door open for him so he stepped inside. There was someone sleeping on her bed. Judging by the shoes and clothes strewn on the floor, John was guessing it was a female someone. It was hard to tell with Jazmin because she wasn't exclusive to men or women.
"Sorry," he said.
"No problem." She grabbed her laptop case and brought it to John. "You can just get it to me later."
"Thanks," he said.
"Remind me to ask you later what you needed it for."
"Just some research."
"Yeah, right," she said with a soft laugh. She opened the door and John took the hint, stepping back into the hallway and returning to his room.
He was glad she'd obviously used the computer from here before today so he could just sign in without any difficulty. Computer expert he was not.
She wasn't dead. John was glad to find that out. Her husband had recently died, though. From what John could tell she hadn't been married real long. He found no indication she'd been married before and that surprised John. He'd assumed she'd finish college and meet someone. That was what her parents had been banking on, certainly. Someone more suitable than John Bender to give their grandchild a name and a life. So why hadn't she?
So, Missy had only really had a step-dad for a couple of years, not even really since he'd died not even like three months ago. From their engagement picture he'd looked a little older than them, but not old enough John would expect him to be dead already. He wondered what happened, and if that was the reason Missy was staying with the grandparents. Was Claire there, too?
He was able to find an address here in Shermer, which he wrote down. He also looked it up online to see where it was as it wasn't a street he was familiar with before he shut down the laptop. He glanced at the alarm clock as he took a pull from his beer. He had absolutely no business seeking her out, but he was under the impression Missy wasn't going to know anything about him. So how did she know who he was? That didn't sit well with him when it got down to it. He'd signed his rights away. Her birth certificate should have been blank where his name would ordinarily have gone. Claire's dad made it abundantly clear that was how it was going to be handled.
As it had turned out, Claire hadn't been eighteen on that day of detention. Legally, she was the age to consent but her dad was a lawyer and her dad made it clear that he would be able to come up with some law to be able to charge John with statutory rape. That had been the last thing he'd wanted. They'd made a kid out of that day, he didn't want a rape charge associated with it. They'd both been as willing and as consensual as they could get.
He ran his fingertips along the edge of the pick he always carried. It was a nervous habit he supposed some would say. He didn't like being without one on him all of the time. It wasn't because he was afraid he was going to be asked to play somewhere either.
"Fuck it," he said, glancing at himself in the mirror for a second once he stood from the bed. He grabbed his wallet and the keys to the rental, hoping no one would need it for the rest of the day. They still had hours until they were set to play tonight.
He spun the pick in between his index and middle finger as he drove through her neighborhood. She hadn't done badly for herself. Of course that was the plan for her. Her father wouldn't let something like a baby stand in the way of that. The houses back in here were, Christ, monstrous. As nice as her parents', but in a more modern way. (John had to admit as much as he didn't want to he liked her parents' house better.)
He found the address and pulled onto the driveway. It was Saturday so he hoped she'd be home. He wasn't even sure what he was going to say to her when all was said and done. Instinct had guided him here, but it was oddly silent on getting him past this point.
He rang the bell, waiting for a while given the size of the house before calling it quits on this ridiculous idea. He heard a dog barking from the back. There was enough property between her house and her neighbors on either side that there was no question the dog was in her yard.
Had Melissa grown up with dogs?
He hadn't. No big shock to anyone to learn that if they knew how he'd been raised. And who he'd been raised by. He liked to think he was lucky they didn't have pets because likely they would've been neglected worse than John had been. John was at least capable of making himself peanut butter and jelly the nights his mom forgot about him (or was too messed up to do anything when she did remember him).
She opened the door and stared.
He stared, too. He couldn't help it. She looked fantastic.
"Didn't you learn it's not polite to stare?" he asked.
"Yes, of course. I'm sorry. How did you? Why are you? What do you want?"
"Smooth," he said.
"Forgive me for not having any idea what to say to someone I haven't seen in eighteen years and didn't think I'd ever see again."
"You look good," he said.
"Thanks," she said.
"Are you heading out?"
"You're dressed…" She was dressed nicely. A pretty nice skirt and blouse.
"Oh, no," she said.
So, this was what she wore to just sit at her house? Man, he was lucky to put a shirt on when he was home.
"What do you want, John?"
"Well, no offense, but I haven't seen you since sometime around graduation."
"Yeah, your dad made sure of that."
"And you wanted to be involved?"
Put like that… "I didn't see much choice in the matter. He had me by the short hairs, you know? It was give in or be branded a rapist. Not too great of a thing to have hanging over someone's head who's trying to get a record deal."
"What?" What was she asking him?
"Get a record deal."
"Oh, well, not right away, but sure. Eventually. You know, hard work and perseverance. Whatever it's called."
"I'm glad." Did she really not know?
"I read about your husband. I'm sorry."
"Thank you," she said, sounding surprised and legitimately flattered he'd said that.
"Yeah, sure. You weren't married long?"
"No. I'd known him for years."
"Yes. He asked me out for a year or so before I finally said yes."
"When was that?"
She shrugged. "Ninety-six?"
"Why'd you say no at first?"
"I really didn't want anyone involved with Melissa."
"What? Why not?"
She shrugged. "You hear so many stories, John. I didn't want to take the chance."
"Jesus. Hopefully, you're not going to date someone who does anything in those stories."
"Well, I'm sure John Wayne Gacy's wife didn't think he was that type of guy."
"I suppose," he said. That seemed a bit drastic in his opinion.
"I mean. I dated and did stuff now and again. I just never found anyone I wanted to get serious about. Christopher or Mom and Dad were always happy to babysit for an evening. I never introduced her to someone I dated until Stu. And even then, God, I think we'd dated for about two years by the time they met."
"Yeah. He was older and it took me a while to realize that he really was interested in me and not just a trophy wife."
"Well, it seems it worked out, and I'm sorry."
"Thanks. What are you doing here, John?"
"Well, my band is playing."
"Yeah," he said. He'd sort of thought she was behind them being hired. Maybe he was wrong. She had to have some pull with the reunion committee and stuff.
"We've been here since early in the week."
"One of the kids in the band, Sean, he's a good guy and all. He's been spending time with a girl."
"John. I don't see…"
"I didn't see either, until she started talking to me last night."
"Girls that young? These days? It doesn't happen as often as it did. Especially with Sean and Noel in the band now. They're both younger so the cute young groupies usually latch onto them if they can. She's pretty cute and all, but she wasn't hitting on me. She was telling me how good she is at guitar."
She got pale then. She didn't have a very dark tint to her skin to begin with, but the term white as a ghost would have been applicable to what she looked like now.
"I had time on my hands this morning due to getting woken up because Sean thought she was hitting on me. Or I was hitting on her. Something. I don't know what he thought exactly. So, I drove around, saw some sights. Your parents' house among them. Same girl from the carnival who's been hanging around Sean was there. She's too old to be one of Chris'."
"Yes," she whispered.
"Listen. I know I just showed up here unannounced and stuff and you have butt loads of privacy, but could I come in?"
"Yeah, sure," she said, stepping away from the door.
"Thanks." He let out a low whistle at the foyer. The chandelier coming down from the vaulted ceiling that extended beyond the second floor even had to cost more than all of the guitars he'd owned put together. "Nice."
"Thanks." She led him to a room off the front door. He'd call it some sort of living room, but he imagined there was a more formal, wealthy term for it. "Can I get you anything?"
"No. I don't want anything, but it's July and it's hot."
"I'm going to grab some iced tea and let my dog in. Are you sure I can't get you something?"
"Uh, sure then. Whatever you have handy."
"I'll be right back."
She returned a few minutes later with a glass of iced tea for herself and a bottle of beer for him.
"Thanks," he said, surprised somehow she had beer in her house.
"Stu drank it sometimes. It helped his nausea during his chemo."
"Oh," he said. Evidently he didn't hide his surprise at her having beer for him. "Sorry."
"It was fast. He was diagnosed. We tried chemo but it was too late and didn't do anything beyond make him sick. So, he stopped. Good or bad, I haven't decided yet. At least he didn't suffer for months or years."
"I suppose. Listen. How does she know who I am? I mean, enough to randomly pick me out of a crowd of guys at the carnival? I thought that was kind of the deal, you know? I was going to be kept out of it."
She sighed, taking a sip of her iced tea. "It being your daughter."
"Hey, I haven't missed a fucking support payment in over seventeen years. The months I've skipped I paid you double plus a little extra for the inconvenience the next month. Unfortunately I don't get paid on a regular schedule all of the time."
"I know. I'm not complaining."
She sighed softly, taking another sip of her tea. "She'd grown up just knowing that you weren't involved. She'd ask questions periodically when she was growing up when they had a project in school about ancestry or some child would say something thoughtless about her father not being around. I was always able to skirt around the issue. You weren't here. I never told her about the support."
"Would you want to know that someone sent support for you and never made an effort to see you?"
He frowned at that, never having thought about it from that perspective.
"I'll let you think on that while I continue with how she knows who you are. I never told her anything beyond your first name. Stu," she said. "Stu wanted to adopt her, but I said no."
"I would have had to find you, and I didn't want to do that. Plus," she shrugged. "I know what my father did to you. You didn't have a choice in the matter, and I felt bad for that. I didn't want to let another man adopt your child that you'd never met. That would sort of solidify you'd never have the chance to meet her."
"I know you didn't want the chance then, but I held onto hope that maybe someday you'd change your mind. Maybe not when she was a child, but one day. You know, you'd know my father couldn't do anything. Or she'd be eighteen."
John scoffed at that.
"It was the romantic in me, I guess. You know?" She shrugged. "It was stupid."
"No, hey," he said. Was she saying she'd wanted him to come for them? Her? Fuck. The thought had never occurred to him she'd want him for more than what happened between them.
"Anyway," she said, glancing away from him and out the window. "Stu made the mistake of telling Melissa that he'd offered to adopt her."
"Oh," he said.
"I guess they talked, and he told her about you."
"Of course. I didn't tell him at first, no, but once he asked me to marry him. Our situation was a little different than your average single parent household. There was no divorce, there was no father involved to share visitation with. I didn't get weekends or holidays off ever. He needed to understand that wasn't going to change."
"And you knew…"
"I knew enough about your career, yes."
"Oh," he said.
"So he knew. He was so sick toward the end. I don't think he did it to spite me or anything. I think he wanted her to know that he really loved her as a daughter and not just a step-daughter. He was really a very kind man. She got mad. She insisted that I made it sound like I had no idea how to find you. I never claimed that. Clearly, I could have gotten in touch with you through your parents even if I didn't know about your band."
"Right," he said. He was piecing it all together. "So, she's been staying with your parents…"
"Since school let out."
"Wow," he said.
"Yeah. She hasn't really said anything since Stu died."
"So, would she really like Sean or is she just using him to meet me?"
She shrugged. "I don't know. She's never really been interested in boys."
"Like mother like daughter I guess."
"Yes, let's hope she doesn't follow in my footsteps too closely."
"She's beautiful," Claire said proudly.
"Also like mother like daughter."
"Sure. So what do I do, Claire? I don't know how to handle this situation. I'm not equipped to deal with it in the least."
"She's your daughter."
"That'd mean something if I knew one iota of information about dealing with kids of any age let alone teenagers."
She scoffed at that.
"Don't do anything."
"Claire. She sought me out."
"John. Look at yourself."
"How many beers have you had this morning before mine?"
"I don't know…"
"And joints? Or are you taking something else?"
"Fuck, Claire, you're not my mother."
"No, but I'm my daughter's mother and I want you to step back and think about what kind of example you'd be setting for her right now. I know you've been arrested for possession at least once."
"It's still an arrest."
"So, what am I supposed to do? To this point she hasn't said anything directly."
"Don't give her the chance to."
"Just because she's not talking to you…"
"No! I'm not punishing her. Look at yourself. You seek me out and can't even have the decency to shave?"
He ran his hand along his jaw and realized he hadn't.
"I have to be clean shaven to see you?"
"Well, I guess it depends on what you want me to think. Right now I think you're a rock star who drinks and drugs his days away in between shows."
"Fuck. You're judging me?"
"Have I said anything untrue?"
"That's not the point."
"You're sitting in my living room asking me what you should do. I'm telling you. Nothing."
"So act as if I don't know she's my kid?"
"Yes. Biological parents do it all of the time."
"That's not the same thing at all."
"It is so. How is it any different? You agreed to no involvement. Kids find their biological parents all of the time and are told they don't want to meet them and vice versa."
"You can't be serious."
"I'm completely serious."
"She sought me out!"
"Because she's mad at me and has some romantic idea in her head that you'll want a God damned thing to do with her after seventeen years because she can play a guitar same as you."
"You're a bitch, you know that?"
"I'm protecting my daughter from something I think will harm her."
"I wouldn't hurt her!"
"You can't even take care of your own life. I don't want you near hers. When was the last time you woke up and didn't grab a beer and your cigarettes?"
"You brought me a beer!"
"You're right, I did because I knew I had nothing else you'd like."
"I drink iced tea."
She scoffed softly.
"So you want me to just ignore her?"
"Yes. You'll be gone tomorrow, right?"
"Well then it's just tonight you'll have to worry about."
She stood then and opened the doors leading to the foyer. He stood then, taking his cue from her. He wasn't raised in this type of home, but he knew the sign of him getting thrown out in this house or any other house.
"John. You do whatever you want, but after you leave here I want you to stop and really look at yourself and think about the fact if you're the man you want your daughter to meet and get to know."
"You don't know a fucking thing about me."
"I know enough."
He sighed as he walked to the door. She hadn't opened it yet, but she was getting to that point. He may as well beat her to it.
"And if I like what I see?"
"Then disregard what I'm asking you to do. Just remember you don't know her. Being a sperm donor does not give you an instant connection to someone."
He wanted to get mad at the sperm donor comment, but he'd thought it himself over the years as he'd written child support checks. He didn't think it every month or even frequently, but there were a few months where things were pretty fucking lean and he had to make the fucking payment. Those months he looked forward to her being out of college. He'd agreed to support through college because he thought it was the right thing to do at the time. There'd been more than once over the years he'd thought he should have tried to barter for eighteen instead.
"Good bye, John. You've asked me what I thought you should do. I've told you. You either abide by my wishes or you don't. I'm not going to sit here and talk about the meaning of life or anything else with you. We had one day of our lives, we made a child out of that day, that's all."
"Yeah, sure," he said, stepping outside. She hadn't made it sound like that was all at first, though. She'd made it sound like maybe she'd hoped he'd look for them. Was that why she was mad now? Had she not married someone until a couple of years ago, thinking maybe he would?
There was putting way more stock into what she could possibly think about him.
Claire watched from behind the drapes as he pulled off the driveway and drove away.
God, she couldn't believe he'd just shown up here. Sounding sincere about his condolences about Stu. She had no idea Shooterz had been hired to play for Shermer Days because since Melissa wasn't speaking to her she hadn't cared enough to find out about the various performers. She and Melissa had always enjoyed going previous years. Stu would come with sometimes, but usually he let Mother and daughter enjoy their music together. (Stu was a classical music guy, and while he tolerated other types of music he didn't enjoy the majority of music that contained words.)
She found Scotty in the den, closing the door behind her before she sat at her desk and picked up the phone.
'This is Alison. Leave a message.'
"Hi Alison, it's Claire." She sighed and Alison would probably hear the sigh. "You'll never guess who came by the house today to tell me that my daughter has spoken to him. Did you, uh, know he was in town? Call me when you get a chance. I have no real plans today. Bye."
She hung up, disappointed to get voicemail. It was Saturday, though, after the Fourth. For all she knew Alison and Andy were at the Dells for the weekend or something.
She grabbed her remote and turned the TV on, moving to the couch.
"Oh, Scotty," she said, touching the top of his head with her fingertips. "He's not going to listen to me, is he? He's going to be a like a bull in a China shop and just barrel through this without any thought of what his actions could do to her. Or to me. Or even to him. People start finding out he has a child."
Well, it didn't matter. She thought she'd done pretty well for the past seventeen years keeping her paternity under wraps.
She stumbled across the movie Grease and stopped there. A little singing and dancing should be good for her. And if she fell asleep? She wouldn't complain either. She hadn't slept real well since Melissa moved in with her parents. Moved in wasn't accurate, but she may as well be living there at this rate.
Oddly, her parents hadn't asked Claire one question as to why their granddaughter wanted to stay there. Perhaps not so oddly given who her parents were.
She wondered what would have happened between Sandy and Danny if their summer night at the beach had resulted in a Melissa of their own. Would Sandy's parents have stayed? Would Danny have given her the time of day? Kenickie had come through in the end for Rizzo when he thought she was pregnant. Well, sort of. She'd told him it wasn't his, which had to have hurt.
"Too bad I couldn't have done that," she murmured to Scotty.
Of course, in her case, she couldnt have lied because there was no other guy but John who could have been the father. She certainly wasnt going to go out and have sex with someone else after realizing she was pregnant. So, when her father had wanted the information there really was no alternative for her but the truth. Anyone else would have denied having had sex with her, and while a pregnancy was bad enough for her reputation she didnt want it getting around she was accusing random guys of fathering her baby. That would have completely ruined her. Shed kind of taken pride in the fact no one could talk about her in that way.
And the one guy who could have? The one who her friends probably would have told her to stay away from because he'd blab to the entire student body that he'd had her? He hadn't told a soul that anything had happened between them. Well, he had, a few years later but in a way no one would know who he was talking about.
Except her, of course. She knew.
Story ©Susan Falk/APCKRFAN/PhantomRoses.com