John picked up his phone and dialed without thinking too hard on what he was doing. He'd had a couple of drinks at dinner so the idea seemed like a good one at the time. Usually, in his experience anyway, ideas were not as good as he thought they were in his head.
'Hello,' she said and he paused for a second before answering her. Would she be mad he called? A little late now to think on that. Likely she had caller ID and would see his number and just call back or something since it was clear he hadn’t hung up yet.
"Uh, hi, sorry. It’s John."
'Oh, hi,' she said. 'How are you?'
"I’m all right. You?"
'About the same.' Their version of all right probably differed drastically.
Then maybe not. There was a reason she appealed to him that day (and vice versa he wagered). He hadn’t given her a lot of thought until then because why would he have? Their paths crossing wasn’t going to happen. Yet it had. Oh, she pretended just fine, but deep down he knew she was as alone as he was when all was said and done. She just had more people around her to make it look like she wasn’t so alone all of the time.
He doubted anyone but the four of them that day knew she was miserable at home, and he’d bet a million dollars none of the other three had figured out what her mother’s situation was. John knew. He saw it in her eyes when she talked about them. It wasn’t what she’d said, but how.
"Good," he said.
Now what, you moron? Say something so she doesn’t think you’re an idiot or an asshole. Or both.
"So, I was just wondering, you know, if maybe Melissa had come home yet," he said.
'No,' she said quietly.
"No? I was really hoping that maybe," he shrugged.
He wasn’t sure what he’d hoped. That sitting there listening to her play for an hour or so would send her back to her mother. He wouldn’t deny he hated the idea of his daughter being under the same roof as those people.
"Because you want her home," he said. Was that so strange? Maybe so.
'Oh, well, no.'
"I, uh, didn’t tell her I know or anything."
He wasn’t sure that was a concern to her or not, but legally he wasn’t sure where he stood. He’d signed his rights away and it was made abundantly clear he wasn’t to try to contact her. As he’d gotten older that bothered him off and on, but never enough to see a lawyer about the legality of it. He’d signed on the dotted line when all was said and done. So had she.
'No?' she asked.
"Nah. I listened to her play and that was about it. I think Sean would’ve called the cops on me if I’d taken up much more of her time. Then I would have had to explain my way out of a for-real statutory situation."
She laughed softly at that.
"I’m glad I can amuse you."
'Where are you?'
"Uh, New York actually for a couple of nights."
"Yeah. We left there and flew out here for a while. A couple more things like Shermer Days, a couple of legitimate concerts."
'What are your couple nights a break from?'
"A fair in Pennsylvania somewhere and a real concert here in New York."
'Oh,' she said.
"I do think Sean and Melissa have talked since we left."
"That surprises you?"
'She’s never really been interested in boys.'
"Is she interested in girls? Because if she is, I should probably tell Sean that he’s wasting his time."
'No! Nothing like that. She just hasn’t ever really shown an interest beyond going to a dance or maybe a group activity. You know, a movie or something.'
'Yes. Why do you think they’ve talked?'
"Just a suspicion I have. He hasn’t said, I haven’t asked. It’s not really any of my business as long as she’s not sending him naked pictures of herself."
'God, don’t even joke about that.'
"I’m not sure I’m joking! That’s more than I want to deal with, I think, and I’ve heard that happens."
'I bet it does.'
"I’m going to assume if you say she’s not like that that she’s not."
Now what else could they talk about? The bands they were playing with in a couple days’ time, a few of them would probably appeal to Melissa. Actually, they all could depending on what kind of music she liked.
"So, what kind of music does she like?"
'What do you mean?'
"Well, we’re playing with a couple of other bands night after tomorrow. It’s a club’s thing they’re doing. I was thinking if she liked any of the bands I could get her a shirt or something," he said, naming off the other bands.
'You don’t have to do that.'
"I know I don’t. I’d send it to you, you can give it to her. She’ll never have to know I sent it. One of the bands I could probably talk into autographing it because I know them well enough to ask such a thing."
'You’d do that?'
"Would she like it?"
'Yes, of course.'
"I’ll see what I can come up with. Black okay? For the T-shirt, I mean?"
'Any other colors?'
"Haven’t seen them yet, but I’ll try to choose something other than black."
'That’d be nice.'
"All right. Look for something not gothic. Got it. Any of the bands a better choice than the others?"
'Any of them, really, though I’ve heard her mention Jimmy Eats World more than the others.'
"Jimmy Eat World. I’ll see what I can do." He glanced at his watch, noticing the time and that it was a Friday night. "Why are you home?"
'Where else would I be?'
"I don’t know. Out enjoying summer."
'Oh, Allison and I had dinner earlier. That was my excitement for the night.'
"Where’d you go?" He wouldn’t have thought she and Allison talked. Showed what he knew. He knew Andy dated her after that day, but he assumed once they broke up Claire would bail on that friendship.
"That sounds pretty good right now."
'You haven’t eaten?'
"I did, but it wasn’t near as tasty as a Hackney Burger."
'Oh. We split an onion loaf. I haven’t had one in ages. It was so delicious.'
He chuckled a bit at that.
"All right. Well, I’ll let you go, I guess. I was really hoping something would shake loose for you two."
She sighed. 'Me, too.'
"Good night," he said.
'Same to you.'
He hung up and realized what a fucking ridiculous conversation it had been. He must have looked like an idiot. As if it was any of his business whether Melissa had gone home or not, but he was curious. He’d sort of hoped that she’d get her curiosity out of her system and give up on the living with the grandparents’ thing.
Of course he wasn’t entirely sure why Melissa was mad at Claire.
A knock to his door brought him out of his thoughts. He opened his door and nodded in greeting to his neighbor.
"Hey," he said.
"We’re heading out. Want to come?"
"Sure," John said. "Let me grab my keys," he said.
He liked his neighbor. He knew who John was and everything, but never asked John to join him on nights like this if he was going to be around people who would hound him for an autograph or tips on how to be the next Eric Clapton. He was a stereotypical theatre guy and as gay as they came, but for whatever reason John usually had a good time with him and his friends. (Being the only straight guy in a crowd was actually a help a lot of the time rather than a hindrance.)
He glanced at the phone before heading out, realizing he hadn’t asked Claire what size shirt he should buy. He supposed he could ask Claude that piece of information because he didn’t want to fuck something simple like a shirt up. A large seemed a little big for her, so a medium? Hell if he knew how girls’ clothes were sized.
Story ©Susan Falk/APCKRFAN/PhantomRoses.com