John opened his door.
"Hey, Sean. Is it dinner time already?"
He'd turned a baseball game on after getting into the room and ended up falling asleep. He knew that only based on the fact it was innings later than he recalled it being just a minute ago. He'd never admit it to anyone, but he sort of liked catching Cubs games when he was close to home. He could watch them most anytime, but there was something about being close to home and the memories of the few games he'd managed to get to growing up. It wasn't a Cubs game today as it was the playoffs, but he could watch the Cardinals game and hope they'd lose.
"No, not yet."
"What's up then?"
"Can I pick your brain for a bit?"
"Sure, I guess," he said, stepping back to let Sean in.
Sean glanced at John's open guitar case. He'd thought about playing something earlier, but hadn't gotten that far. That's why the case was open, though.
"Since when do you have a pink pick?"
"It's not pink," John snapped, closing the case.
He'd forgotten about the pick until seeing Melissa's fingernails that night she'd played for him. He'd bought a bunch of them years ago not even realizing why the color appealed to him. It was not a true pink, but he understood why Sean said it. He understood, too, after seeing Melissa's nails why the color had appealed to him when he bought them. He imagined the color usually appealed to female guitarists, but he'd bought them.
"It reminds me of Missy's nails."
"Great. I assure you I did not pick it for that reason."
"No, I didn't think you did. They were real nice, though. I've never really noticed girls' nails before."
"What did you want to talk about?"
"Yeah? Something wrong? You get in trouble or something? You need some cash?"
"No, none of that."
"All right then."
"So we're kind of close to where Missy lives."
John sighed with a soft groan. Really? This is what he came here to talk to him about? How did he get so lucky?
"Yeah, it's not too far. It's been a while since I've thought about it, but it's maybe 60-70 miles."
“We talked pretty much every day since we left Shermer those first seven or eight weeks before we left for Canada. Then we didn't talk every day, but I'd call her to tell her my number and she'd call my room once in a while so we could talk.”
John kind of knew that. He was young enough that hanging out at carnivals and fairs was still pretty cool and not tiresome. He didn't do that so much after they got done playing there, though. Instead he'd go back to his room a lot. John always seemed to take the room next to Sean and he hadn't heard any indication the kid was taking girls to his room. So, he assumed Sean was either calling Missy or being called by her.
"Okay," John said.
"So, now we're an hour or so away and she says she's not sure she can get here to hear us play, or even just to come hang out with me."
She didn't? Was that because of him? Had he done something wrong somehow that she wouldn't even come here and risk seeing him? He didn't think he had. He was short in their phone call, but he wasn't an asshole or mean.
Did she not want to see John again?
Why the fuck did that thought upset him? A lot?
He hadn't banked on getting back to this area as quickly as they'd managed, but he'd assumed they'd get back to the Chicago area eventually and he'd see her again. Assuming Sean's interest was still there, anyway. Without Sean it'd be up to him to initiate that contact, and he wasn't sure he'd do it.
"And you came to me with this versus the guy with kids? Girls kids?"
"Claude told me to come talk to you."
"He did, huh," John said, mulling that over.
"Yeah. He said asking the guy with two failed marriages probably wasn't the best idea as far as wanting advice on women."
"And me with my no marriages is a better option? How about Noel or Billy?"
"Billy would give me shit for someone I met at a carnival."
"Likely he would." Likely he would for thinking to try to extend it beyond the week it was. He said nothing about Noel John noticed, but for whatever reason Noel didn't get along with anyone as far as he could tell. There were no fights, arguments, or anything like that. He ate dinner with them as a group and all when they did that, but no one was friendly with Noel.
"And what about one of the girls?"
Sean blushed deeply at the question and John couldn't help but laugh.
"Why would you be embarrassed? None of them fear having a good time. Clearly. I think Jazmin's already got someone with her."
"I'd rather not. They'd ask me things."
"Yeah. So?" John asked.
"I've never had a girlfriend before." Twenty-two years old and never had a girlfriend? John couldn't fathom that at all. Fuck, by the time he was twenty-two. Well, best not go there.
"So? Wait. Really?"
"No, and I don't want them to know that. It's bad enough Claude does. Now you."
"Wait, Claude knows that?"
"Yes," Sean said.
"Huh," John said. He guessed the guy was pretty good at keeping things under wraps.
"I don't know what type of things you think they'd ask you, but I guess I can try. I'm no expert by any means."
"But you've had girlfriends."
"Sure, it's been a while since I've had one of any substance."
"So, what does it mean?"
"That she doesn't know?"
"Yeah. I mean, we talked almost every day. I can't think of a day we didn't talk before going to Canada. Other than maybe one day we were traveling or something. When we were in Canada we talked as much as we could, but we both knew it was expensive."
"Okay. Maybe it really means she doesn't know."
"She sounded really excited when I told her last month we'd be in the area again."
"Maybe something came up, Sean. I don't know. Maybe she's not sure she can be gone all day like that without reason. It's sixty miles, but later at night that may not work for her. Do you know her situation?"
"She stays with her grandparents on the weekends right now. That's all I know."
"Yeah. She said something about going back to her mom's house when school starts only because she didn't have a choice. She hasn't said why she's mad at her or where her dad is beyond not around."
"Oh," John said.
He was hoping that wouldn't be the case. He was hoping Missy being at the house the last time he called was a good sign. He was tempted to ask him what else she'd said about her dad, but decided that wouldn't be right. He also wasn't sure he really wanted to know what she'd said about him. If she thought he was an asshole he'd rather not know that when it got down to it. He liked thinking he'd made a fairly decent impression on her.
"Well, what about her grandparents. Maybe they're strict."
"They seem okay so far. I mean she never had a problem being out late when we were in town."
"Different. Her grandparents likely knew she could walk home or get a ride from someone else if she had to."
"She doesn't drink much."
"No?" John asked.
"No. I mean, I wasn't trying to get her drunk or anything, but I offered…"
"Yeah, be careful of that, Sean."
"What do you mean?"
"In addition to undercover cops posing as underage people you don't know crap about her family and what they'd do if they thought you'd put her in a compromising position."
"Did you hear the part at dinner that one night about them wanting her to be a lawyer?"
"Yes, she said her grandfather, uncle, and aunt are lawyers."
"Well, all the more reason to be careful."
Interesting. So Claire was not a lawyer. What did she do then? It was a very nice house she had. Of course he had no doubt that whatever Claire set her mind to do she'd do it well. That was just the way she was. He picked up the pick he'd taken out of his case earlier and slid his fingertip along the edge of it.
"You have more than one of them that color?"
"Yeah," John said abruptly. He wasn't exactly defensive, but he sure as hell didn't owe Sean – or anyone – an explanation as to his color choice in guitar picks.
"So what do I do? I mean, I'm here for a reason, I can't just randomly drive up there."
"You could," John said with a bit of a nod. "I'm not sure I'd trust you with a rental car driving in that area, so shelve that idea for the time being. Did you actually tell her you wanted her to come?"
"Well, yeah, I mean. We talked…"
"Sean. You didn't hear my question evidently. Did you come out and tell her you wanted or hoped she'd come down to see you again? Not us as a band, but you as you."
"Maybe," he shrugged. There was that blush again. "No."
"Well, try that. I mean, I don't know, but maybe she's not sure. I'm sure she's not stupid when it comes to what some people do."
"Does she know you've never had a girlfriend?"
John laughed again.
"It's not funny."
"It is that you get so defensive over it. Maybe if you told her that she wouldn't think you're like some people."
"Would you do it?"
"Yeah," Sean said.
"I don't know, Sean. I'm not you, though. It's not easy. I mean, you're talking girlfriend. Right?"
"Long distance things suck. Add trust into the equation and things don't go so well sometimes. So, I guess it would depend on the girl and what my interest was. If you're just looking to have your first girlfriend."
"Well, yeah, but I've never really thought about it before."
"You've met girls before." John had seen him talk to girls more than a few times. He'd seen him bring them back to his room, too.
"I know. I mean I'm not completely inexperienced. I've done, you know, stuff."
"Stuff," he said with a scoff. "Wait. You're a virgin, too?"
"Fuck," Sean said.
"Hey, it's okay. I just wasn't putting the two together to mean that. Nothing wrong with that."
"Says the guy who hasn't been a virgin since long before you were my age."
"Well, yeah, and I'll be honest if I could go back and undo them. I would. Well, most of them."
"Yeah, there might be one I wouldn't undo."
He glanced at the pick again. There certainly wouldn't be a Melissa for Sean to be contemplating falling in love with. He'd have a lot more money over the past seventeen years. Without her, though, he never would have experienced anything good growing up. It was only one day, so some may say that was a ridiculous way to think. She was, by far, the best thing to ever happen to him.
Wrong time. Wrong place. If they'd been a little older. If… He could go on with the ifs and buts. Had she really hoped he'd come find them? Finding implied he didn't know where they were. He may not have known an exact address, but finding them wouldn't have been difficult. She'd know that, too, likely.
Except he'd taken her dad coming to tell him her news that she didn't want him involved at all. He'd assumed that she'd been involved with the decisions leading up to Mr. Standish finding him. Except, he supposed thinking about it, that didn't make sense. He didn't think she'd go along with accusing him of raping her, but she may not have had a choice either.
"She is pretty, isn't she?" John said.
"Yeah," Sean said. "And she's really smart."
"I can imagine she is."
Claire wasn't stupid by any means.
"So, who is she?"
"Who?" John asked.
"The one you wouldn't undo?"
"I'm here to answer your questions it seems not the other way around."
"Why wouldn't you undo her over the others?"
"None of your business, kid. Have I answered all of your love life questions then or what?"
"I don't know."
"Well, my door's open, but you might start with telling her you actually want her down here."
"I guess," he said.
"I'll be right back," John said, going to the bathroom for a minute.
"Let me ask you something," he said when he came out and Sean was presumably ready to leave. He was standing up and fidgeting as if he'd had about enough of the heart to heart as John had by now. He wasn't a big communicator. No shock there to anyone who knew him.
"You actually like her? I mean, what is it you hope to gain here? You looking to just finally lose your virginity?"
"No! I mean," he blushed again. "I wouldn't mind…"
"Yeah, I don't need to hear the details of what you wouldn't mind doing."
"She's just different. No one I went to school with who looked like her would've given me the time of day."
"Why not?" he asked, looking at him pretty intently now. He was a good looking guy. A little scrawny maybe, but not toothpick scrawny.
"I didn't know how to talk to them!"
John chuckled at that. "Yeah, that can pose a problem."
"I had glasses and braces…"
"Ah," he said with a nod, heading back toward his bed.
"Well, if it's any consolation, I wouldn't have gotten a girl like her either."
"You're just saying that."
"Not and kept her, no," he admitted. That was an honest answer, too. There was no way Claire would have given him the time of day under a normal set of circumstances. He could have walked by her locker and stood on his head to try to get her attention and it wouldn't have worked. He happened to have her undivided attention for a day where she was able to learn there was more to him than people like Vernon wanted her to believe.
He slid the pick between his fingers again.
"Go call her then. Or something!"
"You wouldn't, would you?"
"For a girl I hadn't even had a real date with? And one I wasn't going to get laid by out of the deal either? I mean if I had a date with her the not laid part wouldn't be a big deal, but neither? No, but I'm not you."
"You probably think I'm an idiot."
"Uh, no. Trust me, I'm in no position to call anyone else an idiot," John said. "Just do me a favor."
"Remember that she has family members that are lawyers, okay?"
"Yeah, sure," he said.
"And if she does drive down here that does not mean it's an invitation to have sex."
"It absolutely is not!"
"Sean. If that's why you're calling her…"
"Well, no, but…"
"There is no but. You're asking her to haul her ass down here sixty or seventy miles it'd better be more than a call for that. You can find that here without any forethought."
"And her driving down here does not mean she's looking for that."
"I was hoping that night you let her play for you that…"
"I don't want to hear what you were hoping to get out of that night. Really, I don't," he said. He was going to absolutely kill Claude for sending Sean his way. No doubt he'd done it on purpose. Laugh at John's predicament. Ha ha. Real funny, Claude.
Sean left then and John lifted the pick he'd been touching over his head as he shifted to lay on the bed. He slid one hand under his head. The baseball game was over by now. He had no idea if they'd won or lost, not that it really mattered.
He wondered if Missy would come down here. It wasn't a crazy long drive, but for someone who hadn't even asked her to be his girlfriend it was. That was probably why she wasn't committing to coming down here. Women were strange, whether sixteen or thirty-six.
Whatever he said it evidently worked because she was there in time to have dinner with the group of them. Somehow, and John would put money on Claude being behind it, Sean, John, and Missy were the only ones who went to dinner. John tried to bow out, but Sean insisted he could come with. He was naïve enough to believe everyone thought they were going to dinner thirty minutes earlier than they had planned.
John didn't say a whole lot, listened to the two of them talk as if they hadn't talked pretty frequently over the past few months. The trip in Canada would have caused a little snag in every night talks as Sean had indicated. Unless Claire's parents' had calling to Canada on their phone plan.
"I was hoping I could play something for you before I go home," Missy said to him.
"Something you wrote?"
"Yeah," she shrugged. "I played it for my cousin and she really liked it, but she's eleven so I don't know."
"Yeah, sure," he said. What was he supposed to say to that? No. "Assuming we have time."
"Eleven?" John said.
"Your cousin. You said she's eleven."
"Oh, yeah. She's pretty cool. A little spoiled. She spent the weekend at my grandparents one weekend when I was staying with them over the summer while her parents picked her brother up from camp."
"Oh, yeah. He'll be thirteen next month, I think."
"Ah," he said with a slight nod. So, Missy was the first grandchild by over four years because she'd be eighteen in January.
"When's your birthday?" Sean asked.
"January," she said.
"Second," she said, glancing at John who was doing his best to act as if he wasn't paying attention. "When's yours?"
"Pretty close," she said with a smile.
"Yeah," Sean said.
They got back from dinner in time to get ready for their performance that night and that was about it. He thought briefly on calling Claire to let her know Melissa was here, but realized it would be a stupid thing to do. Clearly, Melissa was old enough to know what she should and shouldn't be doing with her time. However, if she was somehow taking advantage of her grandparents not realizing she liked a guy maybe her mom should know. Then he'd be a snitch, and he wasn't ready for her to think of him that way.
Sean drove her car to the grounds, judging by her giggling when they were walking from their room to the cars John wondered if Sean had given her something to drink. None of his business, except she was supposed to drive home. Sixty or seventy miles wasn't crazy to drive, but he had no idea how much experience she had with drinking.
Sean had said she didn't drink much. In front of him? Ever? Had he offered her something and she said yes because she thought she had to? Girls did weird shit for guys (the same was true in reverse, too, he supposed). Did she not really want to be here and drank to appear happy? Did she not want to be here because of John? Had he been the reason she hadn't been sure she wanted to come here?
He hadn't thought of that.
"Hey, Claude," John said when they stepped out of their car.
"I forgot to thank you for that fantastic conversation earlier."
Claude smiled widely. "I thought you might enjoy that one."
"Uh huh," he said.
"So should you or I go knock on the window and tell Sean he has to get his ass in gear."
"Yes," John said.
"I mean, I can let you get the full…"
"No," John said quickly.
He came back a few minutes later and chuckled softly.
"You don't want to know."
"I think she might be a bit tipsy, though."
"Yeah, I wondered that myself, too, actually."
"Sean should know better, especially knowing she has to drive home tonight."
"Yeah, he should," John said, sounding a little bitter to his own ears.
They hadn't gotten there that much ahead of them to where they could possibly be doing anything in the car other than kissing, but John still had absolutely no desire to see that. Sean was overall a good guy, but he was still a twenty-two year old guy who evidently hadn't been a chick magnet growing up. Not a bad thing until it was his daughter he wanted to spread his wings with.
He took his cell phone out of the bag he carried with him.
"Are you sick?" Candy asked him.
"No," he said, turning the phone on.
"Why do you think John's sick," Billy asked.
"He looks like he's going to use his cell phone."
A technology wizard he was not.
"Ha ha, guys, laugh it up," he said, stepping away from them as he scrolled to Claire's number he'd put into the phone after his trip to Shermer in July.
'Hello?' She didn't sound as though he'd woken her this time.
"Hi, it's John."
'John? Where are you?'
"Huh? Oh," he said, realizing it wasn't the quietest environment. "One second." He got back into the car then. "Better?"
'Yeah. That still doesn't tell me where you are.'
"Melissa is here to see Sean. I wouldn't have called you ordinarily, but I think she's had enough to drink where maybe she shouldn't be driving home. It sounds like she's still staying at your parents'?"
'Yes, on weekends. She goes there after school on Friday and goes to school from their house Monday mornings,' she said, sounding more than a little exasperated at having to admit that.
"Well, we take the stage in about an hour. I don't know how much she's had to drink tonight, or ever in her life until now."
"I didn't give it to her, just so we're clear."
'I didn't think you would.'
"Thank you. I think Sean," he shrugged. "I honestly don't know what he was thinking. Hoping she'd have to stay the night?"
'My parents would…'
"Yeah, I'm not sure he thought the whole barely seventeen years old yet thing through. So, do you just want me to keep an eye on her? She could stay in my room if she needs to stay here."
"Uh, I'd probably bunk with Sean or Claude."
'I don't know.'
"You could tell your parents she decided to spend the night with you."
'Except they know that she's still not talking to me.'
"You could drive down and get her."
"Maybe seeing you in a neutral environment would get her talking. Throw a little liquor into the mix…"
'Please tell me you did not get our daughter drunk in an attempt to get her to talk to me.'
"Well, no, that's not exactly how I'd go about trying to do that if I was planning on it. I would like to see her talking to you, though."
"Well, I feel ridiculous not admitting to her I know who she is, but I don't want to do that until she's talked to you."
He shrugged. Why? "Good question. It just seems wrong. Along with her not thinking I'm an asshole I'd like her to be able to see that we can be civil. You know, communicate about this whole thing."
'Is that what we're doing?'
"I did seek you out."
'You did, and I do appreciate it. Very much. If I haven't said so, I apologize.'
"I'm not asking for your appreciation or apologies here, Princess. But, you know, I feel like I'm lying to her. I mean, we all know that she knows I know, but no one's admitting it yet. I just don't want to do that without you two solid."
Claude tapped on his window, pointing at his watch.
"I have to go so we can setup. She'll be near the stage, I'm sure."
'I don't know…'
"You guys could use my room. I'm sure Claude would let me use his."
'I'll be there as soon as I can. I'll have to change into something presentable and let Scotty out.'
He presumed Scotty was her dog. "Hmm. Maybe Sean and I can both get lucky tonight."
'That was a joke, I hope.'
'He's going to wonder how I knew to come there.'
"I think they both are, yes."
She laughed a little at that.
"Yeah, just wait until I tell you about the conversation I had to have with him earlier."
'I can't wait.'
'Thanks for calling, John, really.'
"I couldn't have her driving that far like that."
'No, I wouldn't have wanted you to.'
She disconnected and John stepped out of the car.
"Making a date for later?" Claude asked.
"Yes," John said with a roll of his eyes.
"You just called the mother, didn't you?"
Claude nodded a little. "Sean will be pissed, but good for you. That was a very dad-like thing to do."
"Yeah, I won't have her getting into an accident or passing out at the wheel on my conscience. Claire would never forgive me."
"Claire, huh," Claude said. "Is she hot?"
They'd already had a discussion about Claire and what she looked like. Claude knew full well that John thought she was, and probably knew John still thought so today.
"She's not your type."
"I wasn't asking for me, John."
John walked up to Sean then.
"You and me, we're having a chat later about what exactly it was you took away from the conversation that we had earlier."
"Don't huh me. We'll talk about it later, but I absolutely did not recommend giving alcohol to a minor when she has to drive home over sixty miles at night."
"Later. There will be plenty of time for it later."
Claude chuckled then softly.
"You, shut up," John said.
"Yes, sir," he said. Sean looked very confused. Rightfully so, John supposed.
Story ©Susan Falk/APCKRFAN/PhantomRoses.com