Chapter Ten
Word Count: 7,459

'So, let me get this straight. She just went to Kankakee?' Allison said, sounding about as astounded at the concept as Claire still was almost an hour after finding out about it.

"Evidently," Claire said.

She'd let Scotty out and put him in the small room off the garage she put him in if she was going to be gone for an unknown amount of time. She was hoping Allison would be able to feed Scotty in the morning. He could let himself in and out from the room they'd made for Princess, so that wasn't an issue. She'd done it before and had a key to Claire's house for just such a reason.

'Wow. And John called you?'

Claire sighed. "Only because he thought she'd been drinking too much to drive home safely."

'Or that gave him an excuse to call you.'

"I doubt that, Ally."

Her friend sighed into the phone then. If Claire had a dollar for every time Ally had told her over the years to reach out to John she'd be very rich. She'd even suggested it before Shooterz became a band worthy of newspaper headlines.

They'd opened for Rick Springfield years ago when Claire was still in college and Ally had dragged Claire to the concert. She admittedly had a lot of fun. Their days of being the opening act were long gone now, though. These days, likely Rick Springfield would be opening for them.

'So, feed and check on Scotty. Anything else?'

"I don't think so."

'What are you going to say to her?'

"I have no idea. She's never drank that I know of. I mean, I'm sure she has. She's seventeen. I've never seen evidence of it. She knows though that I won't bail her out for a DUI."

'She's not staying with you right now.'

"God, you're right, and Christopher probably would bail her out despite my not wanting to do that."

'Probably so,' Ally said. Ally was not a big fan of Christopher. He'd actually been the one who treated Claire the worst when she found out she was pregnant. She'd always adored her brother and assumed he felt the same way about her in return. He'd said some absolutely horrible things to her those first few months, making her feel like complete shit about herself. She wasn't quite sure she'd ever be able to forget what he said. 'Just let me know when you're on your way back.'

"I will, and thank you. I'm sorry for the short notice."

'No problem. I'm glad we were home. Drive carefully. Are you going to stay the night?'

"I guess I'll see what shape she's in when I get there. I can't let her drive home if she's that impaired."

'You're right. Well, should I say don't do anything I wouldn't do?'


'You sure because the last time you and John were in close enough proximity to have sex you did.'

"We did not! He was at my house a few months ago!"

'And you thought about it.'

"Well," Claire said. "No! I did not think about having sex with him that day."

'No, I know that. You thought about sex with him, though. If it'd be the same.'

"Shut up, Ally."

Ally laughed then. 'All right, I do have to go. You drive carefully yourself. You won't do her any good in a hospital because you were driving like a bat out of hell to get there. Or John honestly. He'd probably freak out if you didn't show up now that he's called you.'

"I'm sure not."

'He didn't have to call you, Claire. Tonight or the last time either to tell you he was going to listen to her play. He could have just done it and gone on with his life as if it wouldn't matter to you.'

"I know," she said. She'd appreciated that phone call he'd made in July more than he probably could understand.

'Do you think Missy likes this guy because he's a way to get close to John?'

"I really don't know. I don't know him. John seems to think he's a decent guy."

'John may want to reevaluate that if he gave a seventeen year old alcohol.'

"And what was that guy's name you told me about our senior year? You totally used him, made him think you were into him just to get your booze."

'Totally different. I was not Missy.'

"I know," Claire said. "I'm sorry. I was teasing. A bad effort and not fair."

'It's all right. If I can give you shit about John you can do the same to me in return.'


'Try to enjoy the music.'

"They'll probably be done playing by the time I get there."

'That's too bad. I wonder why they're doing those type of concerts,' Aly said.

Claire had wondered the same thing. It wasn't unheard of for household name bands to play a festival or something, but it appeared from their website they were doing quite a few of them this summer. (Not that Claire was stalking their website or anything since John's visit to her house.)

"Everyone needs to make money. Maybe they're a nice break from big concerts."

'Maybe so.'

"All right, thanks again."

'Tell Missy that we say hi.'

"If she talks to me, I will."

How frustrating it had been to have Missy at home with her, but still refusing to speak with her. The uncomfortableness of having her home but not speaking was why she'd agreed to the blind date Allison set her up on last month. It hadn't been awful, and she'd seen the man a couple of times since that night but she wasn't ready for a relationship or anything.

Andy and Allison were Melissa's godparents. Claire's parents had wanted her to choose some friends of the family, but Claire absolutely did not want her child raised by people like her parents. So she'd chosen the two people she knew would ensure she was raised decently. Fortunately, they hadn't had to do anything with her over the years, but it had made Claire feel better.

She found the festival easily enough and parked, paying the fee to park and then another one to get into the grandstand. It was a ridiculous amount of money to pay for maybe twenty minutes of music, but if it got Melissa talking to her it was worth every penny.

As she walked in the direction of the stage she had no idea what to even say. Where did she start? Melissa hadn't even wanted to listen to Claire's explanation. Claire remembered being seventeen and thinking she knew everything and her parents knew nothing. Her parents were crappy human beings but they knew things. Of course, Missy didn't know the things about her parents Claire knew and likely never would.

Not surprisingly it was packed. Festival or not, Shooterz was a crowd-drawing band. Likely she wasn't the only one who made the drive down from the Chicago area to see them. The price to get in here and see them was cheaper than a concert ticket at most venues these days.

She stopped walking for a little bit, taking the opportunity to look at John. She hadn't really the day he'd come to her house, purposely. She couldn't. God, she'd hoped and prayed her freshman year he'd come down there and say screw her parents.

They’d had a real connection that day of detention. It was something deeper and fare more intense than mere attraction. She’d felt it, thought he had as well. When he hadn’t come to find her, though, she’d realized she had been wrong. Or he was too fucking stupid (or stubborn) to go after what he wanted.

He’d said things in that closet, whispered things while he’d been inside of her that she knew weren’t lines or embellishments. She’d made him feel as alive for the first time as he’d done for her that day.

So, she’d hoped.

He didn't. Not that she could blame him.

So, she’d hoped.

He hadn't.

There were so many hopes over the years that she felt like an idiot most of the time if she took the time to stop and think about it. She tried not to because she knew what anyone would tell her. You can't fall in love in one day.

She had. She'd never stopped. Melissa looked more like her, but there was never a day that didn't go by that she didn't say or do something that didn't make her wonder if John did those things when he was that age. Claire had put a guitar in Melissa's hand almost before she could walk. It was the only thing of him she could think of to give her. She didn't have his name and never would. It took Claire years to figure that last part out.

Stu knew that, too. She'd said no so many times she'd begun to think he was mentally unbalanced to keep coming back for more rejection. There were times since he'd passed away she wondered if he'd known somehow that he was sick because he didn't seem to mind settling for someone who just wasn't capable of giving him all of what he deserved. She did come to love him, she just hadn't been in love with him. She absolutely refused to give Melissa his name. That conversation was the only time they'd gotten into a full-on, no talking to one another for days, argument.

That was when he knew, though, without question. He never said anything, never accused her of any wrong doing, and things were strangely okay after that.

He looked pretty fantastic. His hair was quite a bit longer than it had been and looked nice on him. He hadn't shaved tonight either she noticed, and wondered if maybe he just didn't shave often. She'd seen pictures of him over the years and was always affected by them, particularly knowing something about him no one else in the world knew. Seeing pictures didn't have nearly the same effect as seeing him in person.

After staring at him for longer than would be polite if he was aware of her doing it she turned her attention to the rest of the band. Which of them was Sean? She knew the singer and drummer had been with the band since the beginning. That left the keyboard or bass player.

Claire was betting on the bass player. She had no idea why. Melissa had never really dated. She'd gone to dances, but to this point it had been with a different guy each year. She didn't seem to have a type. He was cute, though. Older than her, even from here Claire could tell that. How much older? Old enough to give her alcohol.

Now that she was here, she had no idea what to even do. If she went up to Melissa she might get mad and leave. She didn't want that, if for no other reason she didn't want her to leave in her car if she wasn't in a state to drive.

She found her way to the area behind the stage. Again, a huge difference between a place like this and a concert at a concert hall or something. Here the stage was setup in a field so anyone was free to walk behind it without a pass or anything.


They finished and John spotted her almost immediately once he went backstage. He'd almost wondered if she was going to come after all. He'd assumed she'd find Melissa right away, but he hadn't seen Claire anywhere near her. He actually smiled at her when he made his way toward her. It was a smile he actually meant, too. Regardless of the reason she was here he couldn't deny he was glad to see her. She was watching him approach her and he wondered what she was thinking.

"You made it." Way to state the obvious.

"I did," she said.

"How'd you like it?"

"I did," she said.

"Good. I'm not sure how you want to do this." Also stating the obvious. He had no idea how to handle the situation, which was why he'd called her.

"I'm not either. That's why I came back here instead of finding her out front. I didn't want her getting in her car and trying to leave or something."

Good point. That would be why she was the mom and he was not because he wouldn't have thought like that. He supposed he knew better than to confront her, though, because he hadn't mentioned to her he knew she was under the influence. "If I'd been thinking I would have just told you to meet us at our hotel."

"Then I wouldn't have heard you play."

Huh. He hadn't expected those words to come out of her mouth, certainly not tonight at any rate. She stopped breathing for a second as he closed the distance between them. He settled a hand against her cheek, brushing a few strands of hair away from her face there.

"You can hear me play anytime."


He brushed his thumb along her cheek, eyes flickering to her mouth for a second. The hair was all back in place, which meant he was doing something he shouldn't be doing. He drew his hand away, but didn't back away from her, though.


"Have you played for Melissa?"

"No," he said. "I mean, not just her. Obviously, she's heard me like tonight."

"She's going to be mad."

"Probably so," he shrugged. "Let her be mad, I guess."

"That would bother you?"

"A little, I don't know." He didn't know how to put it into words. He honestly never stopped to think on the fact that he was a dad the past seventeen years. Asked if he had kids his immediate answer was no without hesitation. Her words at her house that day about sperm donors had bothered him in a way – coming from her – but he knew when it boiled down to it he wasn't much more than that.


"Well, you're here. You tell me. You've been doing this a lot longer than I have."

"I don't know! I never thought we'd be here."

He snorted softly at that. "You and me both."

"Not us! Me and her."

"Oh," he said. He tilted his head a bit, regarding her. He liked her much better tonight then that day at her house. She was talking to him, not at or through him. Of course he hadn't just shown up on her doorstep tonight, telling her the daughter he was never even supposed to meet was talking to him. "You look good."

She laughed softly. "Thanks."

"Especially considering you had to be in for the night."

"I was," she admitted.

He supposed that was a given since her husband hadn't been gone that long. Except Melissa had mentioned she'd gone on a blind date when he'd called her the last time. She'd been home tonight, though, so he wondered if that meant the date had gone poorly. And then he wondered why he cared.

"So, you want to just meet us at the hotel? She'll go back there at the very least to drop Sean off."

"Have they? Are they?"

He shook his head, chuckling softly at her inability to actually say it. Over fifteen years later and a kid between them and she still couldn't say it outright.

"I don't think so. He asked me for advice today."


"I know, right? Anyway, it came out that he's never had sex, so I think they haven't."

"Oh," she said, sounding very relieved about that. John was, too, honestly.

"I will be having a chat with him about the alcohol."

"Me, too."

John chuckled softly, telling her the hotel they were staying at. He held out his room key.


"You'll get there before I will, I'm sure of it. I have to wait for all of them here."

"Oh, okay," she said, taking the key then. He didn't let her draw her hand away immediately. His fingers were a lot rougher than they were that day in high school. He'd been playing guitar by then, but not on an everyday basis as he did now. He had calluses on top of calluses it felt like. No doubt she was used to better, but she didn't pull away immediately or anything.

"You, uh, want me in there with you? I don't know what you want. I realize I have no room to lecture her."

She scoffed and he wished she wouldn't do that. He hadn't lived the life of a monk, but he wasn't that bad. When he had a girlfriend he'd stayed monogamous. The problem was he wasn't believed so there was always the third degree about where he was and who he was with. He'd dated one woman a few years ago who called him "by mistake" so many times it was beyond ridiculous.

"I don't know. I'll let you know when you get there, I guess."

"Fair enough. See you in a bit then."

"Sure, and thanks again for calling."

"Yeah," he said.

"That the mom," Claude said once she'd started walking away. John knew Claude was there, hovering in the background and taking it in. No doubt he realized Melissa looked a lot like her mother.

"Yeah," John said, watching as she made her way through the crowd. He had no idea where she parked or anything to know which direction she was going to go from here.

"What does she do?"

"I don't know," John admitted. He really had no clue what she did.

"What did she want to do?"

"I don't know," John said with a shrug. "We never got that far."

"Obviously you got far enough."


"I'm going to say it again," Claude said, patting John on the shoulder.


"You like her."

"Get the fuck out of here, Claude."

"Deny it all you want, but I don't see you touching anyone else."

"I touch people."

"If you say so, John."

"I do, too!"

"Not like that. You have absolutely no reason to touch her. She's not your girlfriend or anything yet you did, more than once."

"You were spying on me?"

He shrugged. "I was curious and I knew she was coming. I found out this guy I've known for over eighteen years has a kid. Sue me."

"Doesn't matter," he said with a shrug.

"You figure out what you're going to say?"

"To him or to her?"

"Either of them?"

"No," John said. "I think he took some X I had in my guitar case earlier."

"What?" Claude asked, sounding as incredulous as John was at the thought of it. He had two travel-sized Dramamine bottles in his guitar case. One contained that in the event he couldn't sleep on a plane or bus ride. The other contained X that he took on occasion when he needed something to get him through a show. He didn't take it often. So infrequently that he knew how the bottles were positioned in his case. They were askew today when he was getting ready to come here. He'd chalked it up to him dislodging them, but the more he thought about it on stage tonight he wondered.

Sean had told him Missy didn't drink much. So why would he give her something to drink tonight of all nights?

"I could be wrong, but if he did and that's what he gave her I'm not sure I can play with him anymore."

"Because she's your daughter?"

"No! I mean, yeah, okay, sure it'd piss me off a little extra I guess, but no."

"He's going to deny it."

"Well, I can count them when I get back."

"You know how many were in there?"


"All right," Claude said. "And, yes, if that's what happened I'd back your decision. Billy may not."

"Billy can go fuck himself if he thinks having someone who thinks it's acceptable to drug a seventeen year old girl in our band is cool."

"Don't hold back."

"Yeah," he said.

He hadn't mentioned the X to Claire. No sense freaking her out. Likely it wasn't something she'd done before, if that's what Sean had done, and she'd be none the worse for wear in the morning. Thirsty maybe. John handed Claude the keys to the rental car he was driving.

"I think I'll be riding with Melissa to the hotel."

"And Sean will be riding with me?"

"I'm fairly sure, yes," John said.

"All right, man. If you're wrong…"

"X or liquor, neither is cool, Claude. You have a daughter…"

"Oh, you're absolutely right. I'd probably be in jail at the end of the night."

"Well then?"

"Excuse my being amused – and yeah a little surprised - at seeing you act at all paternal, John."

Claude shrugged, pocketing the keys while John walked in the direction of their cars.

"Something wrong with the car you were driving?" Sean asked when he and Melissa got to her car.

"No. You're riding back with Claude."

"What?" Sean asked. John was too busy taking Melissa's appearance in to worry about Sean. He knew he sounded confused, though. She was walking all right, but Sean had his arm around her so it was hard to know if she was walking on her own. He tried to meet her gaze, but she didn't seem to be able to focus on him too easily. That could be an effect of either X or liquor, so he still wasn't sure.

"You heard me. Ride with Claude."


"I've always liked you, Sean. I've always thought you were a pretty good kid."


"I'm not sure I do anymore. So, you go with Claude. I'll make sure Melissa gets to the hotel."

He slid his arm around her then, pushing Sean's arm away from her as he did that.

"Can I have your keys, Melissa?" he asked.


"Come on. I've always wanted to drive one of these new Mustangs," he said.

"Yeah?" she asked.


"You smell nice," she whispered.

"Thanks, I think," he said with a soft chuckle. He wasn't sure what to make of that comment. Instead he let instinct take over and kissed the top of her hair. "So do you."

"You're such an asshole, John." Sean said from the back of the car.

"You're still here?" he asked Sean.

"I don't usually put my arm around someone I'm not interested in."

"I'm helping her into her seat now and then getting in the car and I'm going to drive away. If you're still behind the car when I leave tough break for you."

"You can't be serious."

"I'm pretty fucking serious right now, Sean. Go find Claude and get the fuck out of my face before I do something that'll land me in jail."

"Taking her to your room will!"

John snorted at that.

"You have no idea what you're talking about. Now go!"

He helped Melissa into the passenger seat and shut the door once she was in. Sean was walking toward Claude. Thankfully Claude knew the situation so he waited, though Candy, Jazmin, and her date for the weekend seemed confused about the delay.

"How much did you drink?" he asked on the way back to the hotel.

"Just two. Maybe it was three. The first one was real easy to drink."


"No," she said. "They weren't big or anything."

"Ah," he said. "You do know that you shouldn't take drinks from people, right?"

"Yes, but…"

"Ever. There's so many nut jobs out there."

"He's so nice."

"Even the nice ones can be nut jobs, sweetheart."

Maybe she was just drunk. Maybe he'd taken the X and held off giving it to her or had second thoughts about actually doing it. Sean had made John a couple of his rum and Cokes the past couple of years he'd been with them, and he made them pretty fucking strong. Strong enough a pretty petite person who wasn't used to drinking could be knocked off kilter a bit. He hoped that's what happened.

He shut the car off when they got back to the hotel. Man, the thing ran like a dream. Another time when Claire wasn't upstairs waiting for them he'd love to take it for a much longer drive. On a highway so he could really see what it could do.

"I should go," she said.

"Why?" he asked.

"I have to get home. My grandparents…"

"Yeah, come on up for a minute," he said. "You're not in any condition to drive yet."

"Okay," she said.

He went over to her side, holding her door open as she got out. She was able to get out on her own and everything. He locked the doors and pocketed the keys and started making their way to the hotel.

"Thanks for letting me drive," he said.


"How long have you had it?"

"It was my birthday present."

"Nice birthday present. Someone must love you."

"I guess," she said.

"Why'd you take the drinks?"

She shrugged.

"The school I go to, I walk through the halls and see pictures of my mom and my uncle. They did everything. Mom was homecoming and prom queen and Uncle Chris played sports."

"Yeah," he said, knowing full well about Chris.

"I haven't done anything! I haven't even had a real date."

"So you think taking a drink is going to change that?"

"He wanted me to try it…"

He sighed. "It's entirely too cliché I know that, but if Sean wanted you to jump off the Brooklyn Bridge would you do it?"

"It's not the same…"

"It is. Don't change yourself to get a guy or impress a guy. Or a woman, I suppose. You know, if that's your thing. Trust me when I say that any one in their right mind would be impressed by you."

"Are you?"

"More than you can ever possibly imagine." What wasn't there to be impressed about? Did she not see herself that way? Evidently not.

They were at his room now and he knocked on the door lightly.

"Why are you knocking?"

He chuckled lightly as Claire opened the door. Missy stepped inside without question or argument and hugged her mom. She didn't even really seem surprised or mad by her being there. Huh.

"Thank you," she whispered, hugging Melissa to her pretty damned tight.

"Yeah, sure. I'm going to be next door for a bit, but I'll come back to check on everything in a while."

"Okay," she said, holding the key to his room out for him in one hand. "Here. You can let yourself in."

"You sure?"

"Yeah," she said. She let the door close then and John made his way to Sean's room.

Claude was in there with him, which was probably good. Likely Claude knew that, too.

"Where's Missy?" he asked. John scoffed. Pretty brave and bold question to ask right now.

"In my room, talking to her mother I imagine."

"Her mother?" Sean frowned at that.

John grabbed him by the shirt front and pushed him up against the wall.

"Let me ask you. What part of our conversation earlier today exactly did you think meant 'give an underage girl liquor'?"


"I'm not done yet," John said.


"When I'm ready for you to talk, you'll know. Until then shut up and listen to me. We do some crazy shit. All of us. Not all of it is legal. I give you that. I don't think any of us has ever thought it was acceptable to get a minor drunk."

"She said she wanted me to make her one."

"One. You made her two or three she said. You also told me earlier that you were hoping things would happen between you two."

"Yes, but…"

"You went through my guitar case earlier. I was trying to figure out when you had the time, but I went to the bathroom for a minute. Did you give her the X you took?"

"What?" he asked.

"You heard me. Did you give it to her?"


"I should believe you, why?"

"I took it for me. I wanted to be sure I could stay awake as late as she could stay tonight. I was exhausted, man. I don't know why, but I saw the container there. I thought maybe she'd be in the mood to do something later and I didn't want to be too tired."

"You don't take my shit, and you certainly don't take my illegal shit."

"I didn't think you'd notice."

"Because I wouldn't notice was an acceptable reason to steal from me?"

"I didn't think you'd mind."

"Someone going through my stuff? Yeah, I mind. Someone potentially drugging a minor? Yeah, I mind. Someone potentially raping my daughter? Yeah, I mind."

"Your what?"

"I thought you were a pretty good guy. So I said nothing when you questioned me about if I was interested in or hitting on her. I told her mother you were a good guy. I stood up for you, thinking she could do far worse as far as boyfriends went."

"I am!"

"Good guys don't do that!"

He should know, too. If he'd been a good guy Melissa wouldn't be here more than likely because a good guy never would have had sex with Claire in that closet that day. A good guy would have told her no. There was a big difference between John and Claire and Sean and Melissa, though. They were the same age.

"Where is it?"

He reached into his pocket then, pulling the pill out and handing it to John.

"I will count them, and I will know if you took more than one because believe it or not I know what I have on any given day."

He let go of him then, pocketing the pill and stepping away from him.

"I find out he's lying about the pills, Claude, he's gone. Like tonight gone."

"I hear ya, John. Loud and clear."

"Thank you. Just make sure he does. Backup singers are not the only things that can be replaced."

He left then, stopping in front of his room. He stared at the key for a minute, debating about going in there or not. Except even if he was going to spend the night in Claude's room he had to get his stuff.

John felt as though he was intruding in a very huge way when he saw them on the bed together. He'd never seen parents with their children in a quiet or intimate setting like this before. Melissa was laying against Claire who had her arms wrapped tightly around her daughter. Their daughter. She looked very much as if she never wanted to let go and likely she didn't. He'd lay odds he'd never sat with his mother like that at any age.

"Hi," she whispered.

"Hey," he said. "Doesn't look like you said much."

Claire laughed softly at that. "Try nothing, but she's here with me and she's letting me hold her."

"Yeah, she is," John said with a slight nod. He made his way to the beds, sitting on the edge of his.

"Thank you for calling me," she whispered.

"Yeah, sure. I didn't want her driving home whatever her condition."

"How much did she have?"

"Two to three drinks she said, but I've had Sean's drinks before and he makes pretty stiff ones. If she's not used to drinking they could knock her on her ass."


He shrugged. "He's a twenty-two year old virgin. I think he was hoping a couple of drinks she'd do more than sit and watch TV with him when they got back here tonight."

"She's not even eighteen yet!"

"I know that, Princess, I do."

"Why do guys do that?"

"Not all of us guys do that. I didn't with you."


"Quite a bit earlier," he said, knowing where she was going with that. They'd gotten stoned. Five of them had shared his stash. They weren't stoned out of their minds or anything.

"I suppose."

"You don't think that's why…"

"No," she said.

He was very relieved to hear her say that. God that would have put a whole new slant on things if she'd been thinking for the past eighteen years that Melissa was here because she'd gotten stoned. He didn't have the impression that day had been her first go around with getting high either.

"Good, because I can assure you it had nothing to do with my part of things."


"No," he said simply.

Claire's hand was sliding through Melissa's hair and John realized it was probably time for him to go.

"Well, I'll get my stuff and hit Claude up for…"

"You don't have to."

"You sure? I mean, I told you I would."

"I know, and I appreciate that. I think, though, she might not be so fast to run away when she does wake up if you're here, too."

"Ah," he said with a chuckle.

"Besides it's not like you're going to do anything with her in the room with us."

"I'm not sure what 'anything' you're thinking about, but I'll do my best to behave."

He stood then, going to his guitar case and taking out the pill bottle.

"I'll be right back," he said before going into his bathroom. He put the one Sean had in his pocket in the toilet. He wasn't going to swallow a pill that had been sitting in someone's jeans pocket all night. It wasn't ninety degrees outside or anything, but they still worked up a sweat performing.

They were all accounted for, counting the one that he was about to flush down the toilet. He gripped the counter a bit, staring at his reflection in the mirror. It was pretty fucking easy to lay the entire blame at Sean's feet if he had done more than give her a drink or two. Except the kid had not only known who to get the X from but where to find it. And thought nothing of using it, whether for himself or on Melissa was irrelevant.

Except it wasn't. If something had happened to her.

Fuck. The blame would have been his. Claude didn't use and Sean wouldn't have gone to Billy, Noel, or any of the girls for shit.

He shook the pills out from the bottle onto the countertop, running his index finger over each of them with a heavy sigh.

Forget getting raped. She could have died if Sean wasn't careful and didn't pay attention to what he was doing or how much he was giving her. He'd dismissed it earlier, thinking she'd wake up and be thirsty or something but there was no telling how someone would react to a drug. Not just someone either. Somewhere over the course of the past couple of months she was no longer a faceless being he was sending her mom checks for once a month. She was his. He'd helped make her and that floored him that anything as good as she obviously was could come from him.

Claire would never have forgiven him in a million years if she'd found out the drugs had come from John.

That thought bothered him a lot more than he wanted to let it.

He opened the bathroom door then a bit.

"Hey, Claire?"

"Yeah?" she said.

"Can you come here a minute without disturbing her?"

"I think so," she said.

He pushed the door closed again without latching it this time and returned to the counter by the sink. This was the second time in a matter of a couple of months Melissa was going to be responsible for his flushing away money like this. That made him wonder what the fuck she was thinking wanting to be anywhere near him.

"Is everything all right?" she asked, pushing the door open. He watched her in the mirror. Saw when she realized he didn't have ibuprofen or something on the counter.

"John," she said cautiously.

"I have these. Life on the road, traveling from one dinky town to the next isn't always pleasant."

"I can imagine."

"Sometimes I don't sleep so good, you know? So, I have this stash as an emergency. It's not an every performance thing."

"Okay," she whispered.

"He took some. One. One or a dozen, doesn't matter. He took it for himself it turns out, so he says. I'm still not entirely sure I believe him. If he hadn't, though, anything that happened to her would have been my fault."

"John," she said, still sounding cautious.

"You were completely right that day at your house. Claude kind of twisted my arm into going to hear her play that night I called you and said I was going to. I was planning on getting good and drunk and stoned off the shit I bought from Stubby."

She snorted softly at that, so clearly she'd known all along what Stubby was up to.

"He knew what my plan was and distracted me."

"Good for him."

"Yeah, he's been after me to quit since he quit."


"I don't know why."

"No, why'd he quit?"

"Oh, his wife overdosed on shit he'd bought," he said. "Until tonight I never stopped to think what that must have felt like to him."


"I counted them. He only took one, but he'd given her some drinks, too. Forget he stole from me, my shit – illegal or not – that wasn't really what bothered me."


He turned then, gathering the pills into his hand and tossing them into the toilet before he looked at her.

"No, it bothered me that something could have happened to her."

"Well, of course. If I said something that day at my house to make you think you're a bad person, John."

"It bothered me that something could have happened to her and you would have blamed me and never spoken to me again."

"Oh," she said.

"I know we haven't talked until now. Well, recently, but I didn't think you wouldn't talk to me."

'Why didn't you then?"

He shrugged. "Oh, at first anger drove me. That you'd send your dad there with accusations of raping you."

"I did not tell him that!"

"I didn't think you did. Later. Then, though, I did, and by the time I really thought it through," he shrugged. "I figured you were married or something."

"I didn't want to marry anyone, John."

"You did, though."

"Eventually, sure."

He wanted to ask her what she would have done if he had sought her out after college or whenever, but tonight really wasn't the time for that conversation.

"I don't know if I should believe Sean," he said, deciding a change of subject was best.


He shrugged. "I don't know. I've done some crazy shit over the years, no denying. I've never come close to raping anyone or feeling the need to drug them to put them in the mood. I mean, if I was with someone who wanted us both to, that's different. He took one pill. Whether for her or for him."

"You like him."

"I do," he said, chuckling softly because it was the same thing Claude said about how John felt about Claire. No doubt she meant it in a very different way than Claude did.

"What does your gut say?"

"My gut says I don't like the thought of her potentially being hurt on my watch, even if it's not really my watch. I know it's not my watch…"

"It's all right, I know what you meant."

“Good,” he said.

"If they like one another there's not a whole lot we can really do."

"No, but I don't have to let him play with us."

"I can't decide that for you, John. I don't know him and until I've talked to Melissa."

"Yeah, I get it. Did you call your parents, by the way?"

"Yes, I told them that she came down here for the festival and called me when it got too late instead of waking them."

"Nice thinking."

"Yeah, they're pretty strict about calling the house after nine o'clock. They'd know she wouldn't want to risk getting them mad."

He laughed softly. "And I lived for after nine o'clock."

"Why?" she asked.

"By then my parents were passed out for the night so I could do whatever the fuck I wanted to."

"Oh," she said.

He shrugged, turning the sink on to wash his hands and dry them off.

"So, did you bring stuff with you?"

"I did, for her, too. She still has a lot of stuff at Mom and Dad's, but now that she's back in school not as much as during the summer."

"Ah. All right. Good."

"Why'd you ask me to come in here?"

He shrugged a bit. He stepped closer to her and reached behind her to push the door she was leaning against closed all of the way.

"Figured if someone saw me do it maybe I wouldn't replace it next chance I get."

"You don't want to?"

He shook his head a bit, leaning in to do what he'd been longing to do since seeing her earlier tonight. Probably he'd wanted to do it at her house in July, too, but he hadn't thought too hard on it. He slanted his mouth over hers, his breath hitching a bit at the contact and the jolt akin to electricity it sent through him.

"I think I want to hear her play again," he whispered, kissing her chin. "I think I want to listen to a song she writes."

"John," she whispered.

"I think I really want to do that again," he whispered before kissing her again.

She responded a lot better this time than the first one a minute ago. Her hands moved from where they were against the door as if trying to pull away from him to clutching his forearms.

He drew away then, kissing her jaw before touching her cheek as he'd done earlier in the night. No hair to brush out of the way this time.

"I need about five more minutes in the bathroom to change and stuff then it'll be all yours," he whispered.

"Okay," she said, not sounding so sure of herself. She squinted a little regarding him. He wondered if he was in trouble for doing that after all. "You have pajamas?"

He chuckled. "No, but I have shorts. It's the best I have. That okay, Princess?"

"Yes," she said.

"I mean, if you think you won't be able to control yourself and I need to wear more layers…"

"John," she said.

"Relax," he said, drawing her toward him for another kiss. "I'm teasing you. I wouldn't do that tonight anyway."



"Because of Melissa being here?"

"Not entirely, but yes."

"You're not going to tell me the other reasons?"

"No," he said. "But, you know, if you decided you don't want to sleep with her all night…"

She rested her head against his chest then, surprising the fuck out of him. He slid his hand that had been at her cheek to her hair.

"What am I going to do if she wakes up sober and doesn't want to talk to me?"

"Well, then I guess you'll deal with that possibility tomorrow. She clearly wanted her mom tonight, Claire. I've never experienced that need, but I recognize it when I see it. That's something at least."

"I guess," she whispered.

He kissed the top of her head, drawing away.

"You sure you don't want me to stay with Claude?"

"No, it's fine. It might be better this way."

"Why?" he asked.

"She doesn't seem to want to run away from you."

"You do know I haven't told her I know, right?"

"I think she'll know in the morning."

"I guess so."

She reached up then, touching his jaw and cheek.

"Don't scold me, all right? I forgot to shave this morning!"

She laughed softly. "I shouldn't have said that about shaving before coming to my house."

"I know why you said it."


She opened the door then and turned to leave.



"Thanks for putting a guitar in her hand."

"I didn't do it just for you, but you're welcome." She left the bathroom then, drawing the door closed behind her so he could finish getting ready for bed and likely so she could get what she needed together to get ready herself.

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