Chapter Four
Word Count: 6,128

He wasn't overly shocked to see Melissa with Sean when they left for dinner before their show that evening. He had no idea how long they'd been in Sean's room. If her grandparents thought she was at the carnival she had pretty much a free pass to do whatever she wanted for the entire day.

When he saw she was with Sean he tried to come up with a legitimate sounding reason to bow out of dinner, but nothing sounded sincere. That resulted in him drinking a few more beers than he would've normally and saying as little as possible to anyone.

She asked him some questions. Oh she asked them to Claude and Billy, too, but he suspected she didn't really care what their answers were.

Are you married?
Where do you actually consider home when you travel so much?

The first two questions were easily answered. No. She hadn't liked that answer when he gave it to the kids' question. He'd never in seventeen years admitted to having one, he wasn't about to start now. Certainly not tonight in front of people he worked and traveled with on a pretty much daily basis.

Claude, on the other hand, had four of them from three different ex-wives. Well, the kids came from the first two wives. No kids resulted from the third wife. Evidently Claude got all of his procreating done before the age of thirty. John considered himself fortunate he'd gotten his done before he was twenty because even one was too many where he was concerned.

John tried not to feel superior over anyone for any reason, but sometimes he looked at Claude and realized he'd done all right for the most part. One kid, but until this weekend he honestly hadn't given her much thought beyond ensuring her mom got his money in a timely fashion. He'd never stopped to think about what she looked like, what grade she was in, whether she had a boyfriend, or if she could play guitar. Maybe that made him a bad guy. He wasn't sure, but dwelling on her wouldn't have done him any good. No failed marriages. He'd had a couple of girlfriends, but the relationships had ended fairly amicably. He wasn't still friends with any of them or anything, but if he saw them out somewhere he wouldn't want to run away and hide. That was compared to Claude who practically needed a police escort to see his first wife because she was as nuts as they came.

Come to think of it, Claude probably would get a good laugh at John's current predicament if he found out. He'd probably tell John that Claire was right, too. Claude had gotten clean about three years ago now. Wife number three died of an overdose of shit Claude had bought. She'd used the new stuff while Claude had taken the last of their previous stash. He'd flushed it all down the toilet and hadn't touched anything since. Not even booze.

It was Claude's garage John had been in when he found out that there was going to be a Melissa from Claire's mom and dad.

"So are you looking at colleges?" Farrah asked Melissa.

"Uh, yeah. I took the SATs and ACTs last year."

"Both?" Farrah asked. She was the only one who seemed to know what the fuck those were. John knew, not that he'd ever taken them. He went to school with a bunch of people who put great stock in those tests.

"Yeah, the better colleges like to have both I guess," she shrugged.

"Better?" Noel asked.

"Harvard and Yale," Farrah said, sounding exasperated. "You know, the ones kids dream about getting into growing up."

"I never did," Noel said.

"That's you, that doesn't mean that's normal," Farrah said.

"Hey," Noel said.

"Do you have any idea what you want to do?"

She shrugged. "English and Political Science."

"Wow," Farrah said. It was, truthfully, the most John had ever heard her say at one time. She so rarely spoke up it was easy most of the time to completely forget she was there. She sang and danced great, though, so no one was complaining. "Ambitious."

"You go to college or something, Farrah?" John asked out of curiosity.

"I did," she said.

"Huh," he said. He glanced at Claude and Billy who both shrugged so apparently they hadn't known that either. College attendance weren't really questions asked about for her type of job.

"For what?"


"You're a nurse?" John wasn't alone in asking that question, everyone else in the band did, too.

"Yes," she said, sounding defensive.

"Why in the hell are you doing this then?"

"Because I want to while I can? I figure a year or two from now I can think about getting a real job."

"Huh," he said again.

"So why those two majors? One of them alone is pretty tough."

"My grandpa and uncle want me to go onto law school."

John scoffed at that as he took a sip of his beer.

"What?" he asked when eyes fell on him. Missy was watching him pretty intently, too. "Like we need any more lawyers in this world. Whatever happened to women becoming teachers?"

"Oh my God," Farrah said. "You did not just say that?"

He shrugged. "Why the fuck not? We need teachers, don't we?"

"So they have to be women?"

"Well," he said. "No, but I hated all my male teachers with a passion. My assistant principal was the biggest asshole of them all. Lucky he let me graduate."

"It's not his fault you put yourself in the position to possibly not graduate," Farrah said.

"You think so?" he asked. "Tell me, Miss Nurse," he said, pushing his sleeve up enough to show the scar he'd shown Claire and the others that day at school. "What's that look like to you in your expert, educated opinion?"

"John, man, they don't know," Claude said.

"I have others. You want to see more of an example of what my childhood was like? As a nurse I bet a kid came in with that on their arm you'd have to report it, right? My schools did shit about it. One teacher – a woman - saw it and sent me to the nurse to get it seen after. That was it. No questions. No reports filed. Zilch. He knew, though, exactly what my home was like and rode me as hard as he could. So don't preach to me about what position I put myself. I got out, end of story."

He shut up and didn't say another fucking word after that. He drank his share of beers, too, realizing Claire would probably get her wish now. Likely she wouldn't want anything to do with him.

It wasn't the most awkward dinner he'd ever experienced, but it was pretty fucking close. He was pretty sure Claude noticed his answers to her questions before that conversation that she directed specifically to him were monosyllabic at best.

He watched her, though, as much as he could without seeming obvious about it. She and Sean weren't acting like two people who'd just had sex. Somehow he suspected if that happened it would come back to him and be his fault somehow. Fuck if he knew what Claire was thinking at the moment.

Grandpa and Uncle Chris wanted her to be a lawyer. What did she want? Was Claire a lawyer? If Claire was didn't she want Melissa to be one, too? So many questions that he realized when it got down to it he had no business asking. He'd signed away his rights for it to be his business. That just put him in a fouler mood, so he was glad when they finally got the fuck out of there so they could get on with their night. The sooner he was out of Shermer, Illinois the better as far as he was concerned.

He stopped at a liquor store on their way back from dinner to pick up a pint of Jack.

"John," Claude said.

"It's for afterward, don't worry," he said.

"You wake up on the wrong side of the bed or something?"

"Yeah, you could say getting woken up by Sean pissed off because he thought I was hitting on the girl he's with was the wrong way to wake up. Couldn't fucking get to sleep after that."

"Why'd you think he was hitting on her, Sean?"

"I don't know, he was talking to her," Sean mumbled from the backseat. Likely he was not too happy about being caught up in John's bad mood tonight.

"I didn't talk to her!" John said. "She talked to me. I don't see you waking her up to tell her to stay away from me."

"John," Sean said. "Come on. You said we were all right."

"We're super," he said. Why Sean and Melissa rode with him he didn't know, but somehow the two of them and Farrah were with him. The others were in the other car. He had no idea why Sean and Melissa hadn't ridden together in her car other than he supposed taking three cars was a bit ridiculous.

"Don't be a dick, John," Claude murmured from the front seat.

"You're not coming up?" Claude asked when they got back to the hotel.

"I've got something to do. I'll be back."

"John," Claude said. He knew exactly what John's something to do was because he knew John well enough to know what he'd want to go with his Jack.

"Claude," he said simply.

"Get out," Claude said to the three in the backseat.

"I'm not taking you with me," John said.

"I wouldn't want you to," Claude said.

"Well then," he asked as the three got out as Claude told them to.

"What the fuck is your problem?"

"No problem. Beer just isn't enough tonight."

"Want to talk about it?"


"I talked your ear off plenty over the years."

"You did, doesn't mean I'm going to return the favor."

"You ever need to …"

"Right," John said with a scoff, glancing out his window. What a ridiculous conversation.

"The fact no one but Billy and me knows about your past should be a pretty good indication I'm not going to run and tell anyone."

"Nothing to tell anyone anyway. I just need to go do something."

"Fine," he said, getting out then. "That shit's going to kill you."

"I'll come back and haunt you when it does."

"Not funny, man," he said. He shut the door though, but he stood there by the doors as John pulled away.

She was there with her friends tonight, too. He didn't stay behind on stage and help pack shit up as he had the night before. He was tempted, but told Sean to do it since she seemed to want to stay behind and be chatty.

She found him anyway as he was walking to the car ahead of the others.

"Hey, John," she said.

"What? Oh, hey," he said when he saw it was her.

"You're leaving?"

"Uh yeah. We're done. Why? You need me to give Sean a ride back to the hotel?"

"No," she said. She had her own car, which Sean had ridden with her in from the hotel to the carnival.

"Okay," he said.

"I was hoping I could play for you."

He scoffed softly at that. "I don't think so."


"That's exactly why."


"Why is exactly why. I don't think so. I'm not a talent scout or anything. I just play."

"Yes, but…"

John sighed softly. Would it hurt to hear her play? Really? Then he spotted Sean walking toward them, and he didn't look pleased. Then John wondered what that was about. They were leaving. Tomorrow. What the fuck did Sean think he was going to do? Take her with them. John chuckled to himself at the very thought of a Standish traveling on the road with them.

"Play for Sean. And please for the love of God let him know I'm not hitting on you so he doesn't wake me up earlier than I need to fucking wake up in the morning."

"But he's not…"

"I've got plans."

"Plans?" She sounded suspicious.

"Yup. There's a bottle with my name on it in my room." And he planned on making a good dent in it, too. "Later," he said, turning just as Sean called her name.

John scoffed at Sean asking her if she was into John or something. He hadn't had someone that young come onto him in a very, very long time. He couldn't even remember the last time. He was still playing local venues here in Illinois with Claude, Billy, and Xavier, who just went by X. Xavier went on his merry way after a while, but Claude, Billy, and John had remained. Billy was one of the best drummers around and Claude despite his issues was one helluva a songwriter and front man. After Xavier left he had to double up on bass and had fared well for quite a while until they stumbled upon Sean a couple of years ago. They'd found Noel, adding a keyboard player a couple of years before that. Their sound hadn't changed too much, but John knew there was a difference. There always was when someone new came along, no matter what anyone said.

Sean wasn't among those going back to the hotel as a group. No surprise there he supposed. He drove those who were ready to go back when he was and went to his room to shower before continuing his night.

He cursed at the knock that came just as he broke the seal on the bottle of Jack and poured himself the first shot.

"Sean. For fuck's sake I was not hitting on her," he said, opening the door. "Oh," he said. "Sorry." It was Claude not Sean at all.

"I don't think Sean's here yet, and I don't think he thinks that tonight."


"Yeah, heard them talking when I walked past them. You told her you didn't have time to listen to her play?"

"I don't."

"You and your busy night?"

"I have a busy night scheduled. I should never have suggested we come here."

"Buyers' remorse does suck."

John grunted.

"Can I come in or what?"

"I'm not doing anything in here you want to be a part of."

Claude shrugged. "I'm sober not dead."

"It's a free country," he said, stepping away from the door. Claude was left to catch the door to stop it from closing and come in or let it shut in his face.

"So," he said, making his way to the table where the bottle currently sat. "What are we drinking to tonight, exactly?"

"We aren't drinking to anything," John said, running a finger along the edge of the shot glass. John honestly wasn't sure what he'd do if Claude asked to do a shot or a line with him. They'd done many of both together over the years, but his wife OD'ing had changed that. Overall, John thought it was for the greater good. Claude definitely wrote better clean and sober then the couple of years before. However, there were times he missed that friend because Billy, Sean, and Noel just weren't into it like John and Claude had been.

"Okay. What are you drinking to, John? And don't think I've forgotten about the errand you went on earlier. You go to that Stubby kid?"

Stubby was no longer a kid. John wondered how many of Stubby's rich friends realized that Stubby had been a dealer all through high school and continued dealing to this day. Some had to know, those that used. Some like Claire probably hadn't a clue, then or now.

"Yeah. Stick with what you know, I guess." He didn't want to get arrested that was for sure. Claire was right. He had been once, actually there were a couple other times, too, but only once had made the paper because it was after Shooterz was a household name.

"Right," Claude said. "So…"

"What?" John asked.

Claude shrugged. "Why'd you say no to listening to her play?"

"Why not? I have to listen to every person who thinks they're a guitar expert who comes along?"

"No, but Sean likes her."

"Then Sean can listen to her, and I told her that."


John said nothing, taking another shot. This one he savored the feeling of it coating his throat for a moment. He didn't drink hard liquor often, but when he did he honestly didn't think there was much better than Jack.

Claude walked to the little refrigerator in the room that held pop and other stuff at ridiculous prices, grabbing a Coke out of there.

"I don't need mixer," John said.

"It's not for you," he said.

"Hey, who invited you?"

"You haven't told me to leave. I'm not going to drink that."

John shrugged.

"We sounded good tonight," Claude said.

"Are you implying we didn't last night?"

"No, just making conversation."

"What are you doing, Claude?"



"You don't think there was a reason Billy and I weren't behind the idea of coming here?"

"What reason would that be? You said Shermer was too small."

"Sure. Too small and chalk full of memories. In fact, I can honestly say the last time I saw you in this kind of mood you were living in Shermer."

"If you're trying to psychoanalyze me, you're way off the mark." Being this close to his parents again had absolutely nothing to do with his mood.

"You just said we shouldn't have come."

"It's not because of Shermer."

"What then?"

John sighed softly. What did he have to lose at this point? Not a whole lot really. And this was Claude he was talking to who had absolutely no room to cast judgement on John for past misdeeds.

"She's my daughter."

"I'm sorry?"

"Melissa. Missy."

"You don't have kids, John."

"I do have one. Just because you didn't know about her existence until tonight doesn't mean it's not fact."

Claude was quiet, taking a long sip of his Coke.

"You think I'd know her name was Melissa otherwise?"

"It's not a stretch to get Melissa from Missy."

"Go find out from Sean what her last name is and I'll tell you…"

"She could have told you."

"Her birthdate."

"You're serious?"

"I am."

"You've known?"

"Yes," John said with a scoff. "Well, since this morning when I went for a drive and saw her at her grandparents' house."

"And haven't said anything?"

"That wasn't the agreement we had."

"Agreement? What the fuck are you talking about? I thought we were friends."

"Not you, you moron. With her mother."

"Her mother told you not to say anything."

"You don't need to hear this shit."

"No, I don't, but you obviously need to talk about this shit. So, talk about it instead of taking it out on Sean's girlfriend."

"Girlfriend? They've known one another a week and we're leaving tomorrow."

"He mentioned coming back after we're done out east."

"Huh," he said. "Tell him to avoid meeting her grandparents and for God's sakes wear a condom."

"I don't think…"

"I don't want to fucking hear about it. Just passing along what I learned."

"I'm not going to tell him that."

"Let him dig his own grave then. I hope he heard that conversation at dinner. They want her to become a lawyer. Bass players do not fit in with that life plan."

"Did guitar players?"

"I wasn't given the opportunity," John said simply. He poured himself another drink. He sighed a bit after he downed the shot. "I swear to God anyone knows about this tomorrow or at any point in the future I will never talk to you again."

"You either trust me or you don't, John."

"Yeah, yeah," he said. He didn't trust many people. Claude knew that, too.

He was a good listener. He didn't interrupt John once from the day of detention to the day he found out Claire was pregnant to today and everything in between.

"You could have fought a rape charge."

"Really? Against a lawyer like her old man's firm? I had nothing. No money. I was a bum and she was the prom queen. I had no idea what she'd told her old man. For all I know she did tell him that was what happened to save face."

"You don't really think she did that, though?"

"No," John admitted. She'd liked him. A lot. He'd liked her. A lot. He knew, though, even before her dad had come to visit her that their lives weren't meant to be lived together. He just chalked it up to loving someone he wasn't meant to have and left it at that. It happened all of the time. Wrong time and wrong place type of thing.

"And you think what she said yesterday was right?"


"And yet you acted like an asshole at dinner last night, answered her questions as abruptly and rudely as you could."

"Because I'm not here to get to know her!"

"She asks you to listen to her play…"

"And again…"

"She's obviously here to get to know you, though."

"Yeah, because she's fighting with her mom. Some fuck you to her for thinking she's been lying to her about me for her whole life."

"Does it matter?"



He shrugged, not sure how to explain it exactly. It mattered, though, a lot.

"I don't want to be someone's consolation prize."

"You're a fucking dick, John."

"Thank you. I didn't invite you in here."

"No, that's not what I mean. You have a kid."


"You have a kid who until a couple of months ago didn't know one iota of information about you."

"Your point?"

"Instead of thinking you're an asshole she deliberately sought you out."

"And again, because she's…"

"Do you think after this weekend she's ever going to want to seek you out again?"

"I'm sure she and her mom will make up…"


"It's not if that's why she's talking to me!"

"John. I have four kids."


"The older two won't even give me the fucking time of day. I've tried everything. Gifts. Offer of trips. Unexpected visits. Nothing. Their mother has filled their heads with so much crap about me they think I'm worse than Mussolini or something."


"Her mom hasn't done that evidently."


"She has nothing to base an opinion off except for your behavior."

"She was never supposed to know who I am. That was the deal."

"Deals are meant to be broken. How many times has it happened to us? She's a kid. Who's to say she wouldn't have stumbled upon the papers one day."

John sighed.

"So that brings me back to you must think her mom is right."

John shrugged.

"You haven't done anything real bad tonight. Nothing illegal."

"Not yet."

"Why was your knee jerk reaction to do that?"

"I don't know." He didn't, not really. He didn't usually seek out drugs like he had tonight. If they were available at a party he was fine with that.

"You've met her and she's pretty all right."

"Yeah," John said. He couldn't deny that was the case.

"Would it hurt you to go listen to the kid play?"

"It's kind of late now, isn't it?"

"She's in Sean's room."

John rolled his eyes.

"I think, much to Sean's dismay, she's a pretty good girl. He didn't realize she was as young as she was when they first met. I bet if you knocked you'd at the most be interrupting a movie."

"No," John said.

"I'll come with you."

"And do what? Supervise?"

He shrugged. "John. You do what you want, but you have an opportunity to show her you're not an ass. Even if you don't admit to her that you know who she is and who you are to her."

John reached for the pick laying on the table, tapping it on the table.

"What if she's awful?"

"Then she is. What if she's better than you are?"

"Then her education would be sorely wasted on becoming a lawyer."

Claude laughed at that.

"Yeah, well, best not to impart those fatherly words on her."

"Sean might get mad."

"I just said they aren't…"

"No, not for that. I'm pretty sure she started talking to him as a way to get to me."

"Ah, yeah, well, she seems to genuinely like him. If not, well, it's a week out of his life. It's not as if he hasn't done the same himself."

"I know." He didn't often, though, not really.

John stood then and walked to the desk, finding Claire's number in the phone book under her married last name. He sighed softly, watching as Claude eyed him curiously.

'Hello,' she said, sounding very much as if it was after midnight and he'd woken her up.

"Uh, hi. It's John."

'John? Are you all right?'

"Yeah," he said.


"She's all right."


"I'm just letting you know that I'm going to listen to her play."


"She asked! I'm not going to talk to her, admit anything to her, or anything else. She sought me out, though, Claire."

'We've had this discussion.'

"I know we had the discussion. However, I have one chance to make her think I'm not an asshole."


"I don't care if I never see or talk to her again, not really. However, I do care that she understands what you saw in me that day."

'She's very good.'

"So. That's where I'm at. I just wanted you to know. I'm not offering to take her with me or anything like that. Wouldn't you, though, if the situation was reversed want to at least make her think you were likeable enough to do that with?"

'I don't think I want her thinking about doing that with anyone.'

"From my understanding she doesn't yet."

'Your understanding?'

"I told you she's been hanging around with Sean."

'Oh right.'

"I've heard tell that if I go to his room right now I won't be interrupting anything but a movie."

'She's there now?'

"I think the carnival is outstanding cover for her to do as she pleases."


"I'm not ready to talk to the daughter I haven't met until this weekend. However, maybe one day I would be and I'd like her to not think I'm an asshole."

'I understand.'

"Do you?" he asked.

'I do.'

"Sorry if I woke you."

'It's all right. Were you hoping I'd tell you not to?'

"No. Maybe."

'Who's talking you into it?'

"No one."

She laughed softly at that. 'If you say so. Please don't be disappointed.'

"What? I don't know her or anything, but she seems pretty terrific. What's to be disappointed about?"

'Her playing.'

"Oh. Well, I'll do my best."

'I think when she found out that you play professionally that started this whole her not talking to me thing.'

"You're a lot calmer about this than you were this morning."

'You woke me up.'

"I suppose. I'll let you get back to sleep. Thanks for not yelling."

'Sure. Thanks for telling me. Thinking I might yell at you especially thank you for doing it anyway.'

"Yeah, sure," he said, hanging up.

"You like her," Claude said when he hung up.

"Get over yourself and your psychoanalyzing skills and let's go find Sean."

He shrugged. The bottle of Jack was no longer on the table John noticed. Sneaky bastard.

"Just saying maybe it wasn't so crazy her thinking you'd find them eventually."

"She didn't say them."

"Same thing."


"Grab your guitar, John," Claude said.

"We knock and interrupt something…"

"I'll bail you out of jail and explain to Sean why you overreacted."

John frowned. "Thanks, I think."

"Sure. What are friends for?"

"This is a horrible idea," John whispered in the hall as he knocked on the door to Sean's room.

"Maybe it is."

"You agree with me!"

"No, but you're right. It might be a horrible idea. I can't predict the future."

Sean was surprised to see them standing there. That much was clear. The guy had all of his clothes on at least and it hadn't taken him long enough to answer the door that he had to put some on.

"Hey," John said.


"Claude told me Missy is here. I thought maybe if she still wanted to play…"

"Yeah, sure, come in," Sean said.

It didn't look like they'd even been on the same bed as there was already an indentation from someone on the second bed even before Sean took a place there now.

He wasn't drunk out of his mind, but he was impaired enough that he really wasn't sure what to even say let alone do.

"You, uh, wanted to play…"

"Yeah," she said, and John tried to ignore the tear or two that was sliding down her cheek.

"Oh, wow, this looks really old," she said when he'd opened the case. The case was new. The guitar not new.

"It was my grandfather's I've been told. It's what I learned on."

"You don't know?"

"He was dead before I have any real memories of him. Never heard him play that I can recall."

"Oh, sorry," she said.

"It's all right. Go ahead," he said when she reached to touch it and then took her hand away.

"You're sure?"

"Yeah," he said. "When did you start?"

"Before I even had a choice I think, Mom started me with lessons."

"Ah," he said. "Some parents are like that I guess."

"Yours weren't?"

"No. I found it when I was looking for something else and the rest is history I guess."

"Huh," she said, taking one of the picks out of the case. She grew quiet as she went through the steps of tuning it, the pick in between her lips almost exactly the same way he did. It probably wasn't that uncommon of a thing for players to do.

"Wow, that's…" Sean said.

"Hey, Sean," Claude said, cutting him off from saying more. Had he noticed that, too? John didn't think it was an obvious thing he did, but then he didn't have many occasions to watch himself do things.

"Huh?" Sean said.

"Why don't we go get some Cokes or something," he said.

John stared at him for a minute. He was going to leave him alone with her? That hadn't been the deal. Then he had no idea what the deal had been in Claude's mind really.


"Would you want to play guitar in front of a group of people the first time you play for someone?"

"I suppose not."

"We'll be back," Claude said, patting Sean on the back as he guided him to the door.

"So," John said.

"I have no idea where to even start," she said.

"Start wherever you want. You asked me to listen to you play."

"You said no."

"I did."

"What changed your mind?"

He shrugged. "What? It's just women who have the right to do that?"

She opened her mouth to say something else and John cut her off. "Go on then."

He sat back in the chair by the table as she played. Claire was right, she was good. She wasn't a big girl by any means, but she wasn't too small either to where she looked ridiculous fingering the chords on the neck.

"Sean said something to me about you writing, too."

"Oh, I do. I can't say I'm very good."

"Modesty is nice and all, but it takes guts to do that."

"Have you ever?"

"No," John said. "Words aren't a strong suit of mine, so I leave it to the guy in the band who has that as a strength."

"Sean said you're going out east after this?"

"Yeah, some other gigs like this. Then in August we're playing some fairs."


"Always traveling somewhere it seems like."

"Do you like it?"

"Most of the time. There are times we have a break and I'm very glad."

"Where do you live?"

"I have a place in New York and one in Tampa."


"Sometimes I don't want to be in New York in the winter anymore."

"Oh," she said.

"Anyway," he said. "I should get back to my room and I imagine you have to be getting home soon."

"I do. My grandparents will freak if I'm out much after the carnival closes. Any advice?"

"I'm not a music teacher or anything so my only advice is to keep practicing and keep writing."



"No, I mean, thanks for listening to me at all."

"Sure. When it got down to it my other plans weren't nearly as appealing."

She ran a fingertip along the top of his guitar case once she'd shut it. There was a piece of masking tape on it with his last name on it. It was pretty old, though, like he'd put it on there during high school and so the permanent marker was real faded.

"It was nice to meet you."

"You, too, Missy." He stood then, grabbing his guitar case just as she settled her hand over his. Of course Sean and Claude chose that moment to come back. Fuck. He fought the instinct to draw his hand away from hers as if either of them had done something wrong. Of course she didn't know that he was aware of who she was, but he to this point had done shit to indicate he would hit on her.

Her nails were painted nicely he noticed. Eerily similar in color choice to Claire's if he recalled correctly. It'd been over a decade since he saw her fingers, but he was pretty sure what they looked like that day were etched upon his memory. And probably always would be. No one, no one he'd ever been with before or after her had been like her. He drew his hand away before he gave into the urge to touch it and see if it felt like her mom's had, too.

"Night," he said. "See you in the morning, Sean."

"Uh, yeah," he said. Claude followed John out of the room and back to his room.


"That was more intense than I think I was banking on it being."


"Well, she doesn't know I know who she is…"

"Oh, right," Claude said, nodding in understanding. "Well, you've met her, you've talked to her, you've listened to her play. That's a start."

"I don't know that I want to start anything, Claude."

"It may not be your decision."

"I guess not," he said.

"Anyway. You okay for the rest of the night?"

"Yes," John said.

"You need me to come in there and flush that shit down for you?"

"No," John said. Good thing he didn't buy more than a couple of lines' worth or he'd really be pissed off about spending the money to have it go to waste. The urge to get drunk and high was gone. Maybe that had been Claude's goal to begin with and meeting Missy was just the tool he chose to use to do it.

"I really wish you'd look into…"

"Nope," John said.

"I said it earlier, some day that shit will kill you."

"So," John shrugged.

"Like it or not, John, there's someone in that room right there who'd probably be upset that happened. I bet her mom would be, too."

"That's stretching it."

"She didn't sound as if she was yelling at you over the phone tonight."


"I called either of my kids' mothers at this time of night I wouldn't be able to hear for days from the screaming."

"Whatever. I'm going to bed."

"All right. See you in the morning."


Sean's door opened just as John got his open. He stepped inside but not before seeing the two of them kiss. He shook his head, wondering how many guys she'd kissed. Claire had said she wasn't really interested in guys. Was Sean the first one? It was probably a good thing they were leaving and had no reason to come back to the Chicago area anytime soon.

He found the stuff he bought from Stubby and brought it to the bathroom after he'd set his guitar down. He open the little container and sighed softly as he dumped it into the toilet. What a fucking waste. He couldn't bring it on the plane with them, though. He wouldn't take that chance after getting busted years ago. Claude knew that, too.

"Bastard," he said once he'd flushed the toilet.

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