John shifted a bit when he felt extra weight on his bed. He turned onto his side and opened one eye enough to see, surprised for some reason to see Melissa.
"God, please tell me you're not one of those bright-eyed and bushy-tailed people who are up at the ass-crack of dawn every god damned day," he mumbled against his pillow.
"No," she said.
"Good. Why are you awake?"
She shrugged. "Mom got up a while ago and went to get coffee."
"Oh," he said. He'd slept through that? Way to be astute, John. "So…"
"Why'd you call her?"
"Like it or not, she's your mother and I thought she deserved to be called because you weren't in any condition to drive home last night and I didn't know what to do with that."
"What the heck kind of question is that?" he asked. Heck had not been his first choice in words, and she seemed to know that too because she laughed softly.
She sat against the headboard, drawing her legs up against her chest and draping her arms around them.
"I could have just stayed here."
"And not tell anyone where you were? Yeah, I wasn't going to do that."
"You have the right…"
"No, I really don't."
"There was a reason your mom didn't tell you stuff about me, Melissa. I know you want to think it's her fault for some reason, but we were in a very different place eighteen years ago. I was not in a successful band at the time and she was not…" Fuck. He still had absolutely no idea what she did for a living.
"I know," she said, cutting him off.
"Your grandparents ensured I had nothing to do with you. They didn't want me to."
He shrugged, turning a bit to regard her. "I wasn't a good guy?"
"You seem all right to me."
He laughed softly at that, raising a hand to touch one of her feet. "Thanks, but I wasn't so much then. Honestly, your grandparents probably did you a favor."
"I don't think so."
"You didn't know me back then."
"I didn't even know anything!"
"I think your mom was trying to protect you from getting hurt or teased."
"Yes, but knowing something would have been better than knowing nothing at all!"
"We were still kids really. You know? Not much older than you. We both did what we thought was best for you. I would not have been a good dad, your grandparents knew that. They were right, too."
She shrugged a bit, running her cheek over one of her arms as she leaned against it.
"Your mom wasn't trying to be mean or deceiving. I admit I haven't seen her in over eighteen years, but I know she hasn't changed since I did know her. She loves you, probably more than anything, and honestly thought she was trying to protect you."
"By lying to me!"
"She wasn't lying from what she's told me. Did she ever say anything not truthful?"
"She didn't tell me the truth, though!"
"I didn't experience it growing up myself so I can't speak from experience, but I've been told it's a parent's instinct to protect their child from anything that could potentially hurt them. She was doing that."
"You would have hurt me?"
She reached then and touched one of the scars on his shoulder. He'd assumed he'd be up before them and taken his shirt off to sleep.
"There's a hell of a lot more than just physical hurt, Melissa." He propped his head up with his hand, elbow on the bed. "Do you prefer Melissa or Missy?"
She shrugged. "I like both. Most everyone calls me Missy."
"I don't feel like a Missy anymore."
"Ah," he said with a nod. "Why didn't you introduce yourself to Sean as Melissa then?"
"I was worried you'd know."
He nodded a bit at that. He wasn't sure he would have made the leap, but with the red hair and being in Shermer maybe he would have.
"You didn't want me to?"
"I wanted to see who you were first."
"I'm really not a super good guy, Melissa. I'm not impress your friends material."
"But you are!"
"Because I'm in a band not for any other accomplishment or anything."
"Nothing special. I got lucky. If it weren't for Mrs. Norman we wouldn't be sitting here today. Your mom wouldn't have put a guitar in your hands when you were little. What your mom did is exceptionally special. She raised you by herself knowing it would be tough. Tougher than tough. Things were different then. Single moms weren't everywhere and certainly not in Shermer. She worked very hard to be sure you turned out as good as you have."
"But Stu said…"
"My," she shrugged. "Step-dad."
"Ah, I didn't know his name. I don't know what he said to you, but it sounds like he said things your mom wishes he hadn't."
"He wanted to adopt me."
"Your mom mentioned that, and I think she thought, in part, by that time it was kind of late to do that. I mean she wouldn't have gotten married and let him adopt you. So, you're talking a year or so ago maybe?"
"She also didn't think it'd be fair to me. Letting him adopt you would ensure I'd never have anything to do with you."
"But you hadn't!"
"I think she was hoping I would and didn't want that closed off to either of us. I think, too, she didn't want to go through the red tape of finding me."
"You're not that hard to find!"
"Sure, in theory, but she doesn't know where I live or anything so she would've had to hire someone and probably would have been charged more than a regular private detective would have charged because of who I am. I don't know. Have you asked her this stuff?"
"No," she said.
"Maybe you should. I can't speak for her, but I know she wants to talk to you. Badly."
"Why'd you listen to me play that night?"
He shrugged, turning over onto his back.
"I had never thought on you much. Don't take offense to that. At first I didn't have the capacity to think about you. If I did I got mad. At your mom. At your grandparents. At me. At everything. That led to some bad things."
"You were arrested."
He sighed. "I was. How'd you know that?"
"Stu told me."
"Yeah, well, I wish he hadn't, but yes I have been a few times. For possession of pot." He felt the need to clarify that. An arrest was an arrest he knew that, but he didn't want her thinking he'd been arrested for trying to import pounds of heroin or something.
"I just can't help but think if he hadn't said anything I wouldn't know!"
"Well, then I guess he did me a favor."
"Did you ever want to find me?"
"Find you? No," he said, hearing the key in the door. Likely Melissa did, too. "Like I said, those first few years I had some bad stuff going on. By the time that stopped it was kind of too late. I figured your mom would be married, you'd have a step-dad, and you all would be on your way to that picture perfect life I know Claire dreamt about growing up. I didn't want to interfere."
"So, it wasn't because of me?"
"Because of you?"
"That you stayed away?"
"No, it was because of me. Entirely, one hundred percent me. I also knew I wouldn't have liked seeing your mom married to someone else."
"Because she was the best thing to ever come my way." He looked from Melissa to Claire. "I wasn't sure I could deal with seeing her happy with someone else, you happy with someone else. That would have proven your grandparents were right. You probably think I'm this hugely confident guy, I'm not, and I can admit that I didn't want to see some other guy living the life I could have had but signed away."
Claire seemed to be processing what he just said.
"Did you get your coffee?"
"Yeah," she said.
"Sorry if she woke you."
He shrugged. "I can think of worse ways to be woken up." He glanced at Melissa then, tapping the top of her foot with his fingertip.
"Do you really like Sean?"
"He's nice," she said with a shrug.
That wasn't exactly a ringing endorsement for liking him, and John couldn't deny that made him feel pretty all right. Maybe she liked him, but she wasn't rushing out to run away from home or anything.
"Yeah, well, I meant what I said last night. Don't take drinks from people."
"That should be a pretty hard and fast rule whoever you're with. Am I right?" he asked Claire.
"Despite what you may think I was pretty scared thinking of what could have happened to you last night. I would've had to explain to your mom, and with someone I told her was a decent guy."
"I'd love to agree with you and say without a doubt he wouldn't do that. He's a guy, sweetheart, and guys don't always think logically when it comes to pretty women showing them the time of day."
If he'd been able to do that, think logically when Claire had told him she wanted him inside of her they wouldn't be here today having this conversation because she wouldn't be here. Logical John would have known he didn't have a rubber on and all it took was one time. Logical John had been absent from the moment he walked into the library that morning and saw Claire sitting there.
"Any other questions for me?" he asked.
"No," she said with a shrug.
"If you don't like Sean that's fine. I'm glad you talked to him at any rate."
"You two wouldn't be sitting here right now, so yeah. If that's all it was, though, a way to talk to me. Well, you should tell him that. I mean, no one would think anything about it, but if you keep talking to him after this weekend that would look bad. He thinks you like him like as a girlfriend."
"I know," she said.
"All right, since that's all you want to talk to me about I'm going to get up and see if I can find out what we're doing today."
"Are you leaving today?" Claire asked. She was staring at him. Oh, she tried to pretend she was watching Melissa, but she didn't pretend well.
"No, we head out tomorrow night. We head onto the next town, which we don't have to be at until Wednesday so no urgency."
"Oh," she said.
"And I'm sorry if my sitting here without a shirt on was some sort of thing not done, but she woke me up."
Claire laughed then.
"Thanks," he said. "Give me about five minutes and then you guys can have the room as long as you need it."
He grabbed some clothes from his bag and went to the bathroom.
"Actually, I'm going to shower, but don't let that stop you from talking."
He showered and dressed in the bathroom, taking the time to shave before heading out. They were talking. He didn't eavesdrop or anything, so had no idea what they were saying, but he heard both of their voices.
He knocked on Claude's door.
"Well, aren't you up early."
"Shut up," John said. "I need some coffee or something."
"All right," he said, shutting his door for a minute or so and coming back out.
"Where's Sean?" John asked. It wasn't like the kid not to make his presence known to John.
"I think wondering if you're going to fire him or send him to jail."
"Not today I'm not," he said.
"She's all right then," Claude asked once they'd gotten to the restaurant and sat down. They didn't always stay at hotels as nice as this one with restaurants and stuff. They were pretty successful as a group, some of them saved their money and spent the money they didn't save more frugally than others. John, Claude, and Billy were among the more frugal ones. All three of them had come from pretty much nothing. They knew success could be fleeting and none of them wanted to be playing Bat Mitzvahs in a few years because they'd spent their money crazily. This hotel, though, had been fairly economical considering what they got paid for by the city for travel expenses and everything to come here.
"And she knows you know and everything?"
"Yes. I think it was fairly evident I knew when she woke up in my hotel room that her mom had just left out of."
"Did the mom sleep with you or the daughter?"
"Get your mind out of the gutter."
"It is not!"
"Did you want her to sleep with you?"
"I wouldn't have kicked her out, but I knew that wasn't going to happen."
"Where'd the mom go?"
"To get coffee."
"Leaving you two to talk."
"Yeah, I guess, not sure that was her plan. She may have assumed Melissa would be sleeping off last night a little longer."
"She wasn't that drunk. I've seen worse."
"You're right," John agreed. They'd both seen worse by one another. "She was still pretty buzzed."
"All the pills accounted for?"
"There are some happy fish this morning, but yes they were all there."
"Really?" Claude asked, surprised.
"Yup," he said after they'd ordered coffee.
John shrugged. "I thought about you actually."
"Yeah. Melissa's not my wife, and I certainly haven't known her for years or anything to have any attachment to her beyond the base fact apparently that she is my daughter. Maybe that's why I never let myself admit I had her. I don't know. Whether I know her or not I still helped make her. I've been sending Claire money for her the past seventeen years."
"Yes! That surprises you?"
Had he really not told him about that? He'd told him the story twice practically between July and their month in Canada. He supposed he just assumed it was a given that child support would be part of the deal. Maybe not? He supposed he could see maybe where Claire's father could have done something like that, but Claude didn't know Mr. Standish. John was pretty sure the man wanted John to have that monthly reminder of what he'd done – and what had been done to him. Vernon's ‘mess with the bull' statement had come back to him more than a couple of times over the years. He'd messed around – and gotten caught - with the wrong man's daughter. He hadn't thought she was the wrong girl at the time.
"Well, I don't know what arrangement you two had."
"Her dad's a lawyer. Everything was written out and signed by both parties." Not that he'd seen her when he signed. Her dad (or her, which may have been the case by the time the papers had been drawn up requiring signatures John had no idea) had made sure of that. He'd wondered a time or two over the years while sending his payments to her what he would have done if he'd had the chance to talk to her.
"Was I really that much of a douche bag back then that you thought I'd leave someone pregnant to have the kid and do nothing?"
"I don't know the story, John. I mean I know what you told me, but I wasn't there eighteen years ago, and I know you don't like her father so I'm not sure what is bitterness. I'm not sure when you knew or what responsibility you agreed to"
"Anyway. I was thinking about Lois and nothing happened to Melissa, but it could have and it would have been entirely my fault because Sean wouldn't have thought he could get that shit from anyone else. I realized while I didn't get the full effect or anything that must be what you felt like."
"Feel. Every day, John," he said. "I see you doing that shit and I know it's going to be me that finds you when you've OD'd."
He opened his mouth to say he wouldn't do that, but Lois had probably thought she wouldn't either. She was no inexperienced user by any means. People OD'd on bad shit all of the time.
"Yeah, well, I guess it took the potential of something happening to someone other than me for me to give a shit enough to stop."
"I just told you I flushed them down the toilet. How much more stopping can I get?"
"You flushed the stuff you had last month, too."
"It wasn't like I was taking that shit every day or anything. I just needed it once in a while."
"I sleep so much better now without that shit in my system. No ups and downs. I get tired without withdrawals or getting sick."
There was that. Coming down wasn't always fun. The pick me up part was great and served its purpose well. But when you were taking something to stay awake and then something to make you sleepy it seemed sort of counterproductive. He couldn't recall one time since stopping where Claude complained about not being able to sleep or be awake enough now that he thought about it.
He caught sight of Claire and Melissa.
"Yeah," John said, wondering how Claude knew that since his back was to them.
"You actually smiled. Like a real smile. I don't think I've ever seen that in all the time I've known you."
"It's true." Claude turned and looked at them. "Likely the mom's not going to let you get too close if you continue."
"I know," John said.
"And you actually care that might be true."
John shrugged as they walked toward them.
"Did you eat?" Claire asked.
"No," John said. "We hadn't gotten that far. This is Claude. This is Claire and you know Melissa."
"I know Missy, but Melissa is new to me," he said, extending his hand to Claire first and then Melissa. "John tells me you have a song you wrote."
"I do," she said, blushing.
"That's great. It's good to see you can do more than play a guitar. Any jerk can do that."
"Nice," John said with a shake of his head. "You can go to hell."
"See what I mean," he said, sliding over a bit on the booth and patting the spot next to his. That left Claire with the option of sitting next to John, which John realized was probably his intent.
"What's the song about," Claude asked as John regarded Claire. She sat finally, seeming more curious about Claude's interest in Melissa than an affront or aversion to sitting next to John. He slid his arm around the back of her and leaned in a bit.
"So, you're eating together," John said. "That's a good sign, right?"
"Yeah," she said.
"I didn't do anything."
"You did. You called me. That's everything, John. Thank you."
"No sweat. Say," he said, glancing at Melissa and Claude who showed no signs of paying attention to anything but whatever songwriting process they were discussing currently. "What do you do?"
"Yes, you know, a job. You work, right?"
"Oh, well sure, I did."
"Did?" Had something happened that she didn't work anymore? He didn't see her losing a job, but then maybe when her husband got sick that had caused problems.
"I had a design business. When Stu was first diagnosed we had no idea what time table we were looking at so I weighed my options between taking time off and selling the company."
"Which won out?"
"I sold. I didn't want deadlines or pressure from clients distracting me from taking care of him. When it turned out that the chemo wasn't really doing anything but extending his life by a month or maybe two versus any substantial gain he chose to stop and wanted to do things instead. We traveled a lot. Melissa stayed with Mom and Dad some of the times so she didn't miss school. Sometimes they were just weekend trips wherever."
"And you could do that? Just sell it?"
"It was my company so of course I could. I suppose if the offers I had weren't in line with what I envisioned my company being worth I wouldn't have done it."
"What did you design?"
"Ah. And now?"
She shrugged. "I don't have to work. The buyer I chose was very generous. If they'd known why I was selling they probably would have haggled more, knowing I wanted to sell."
"I see," he said, glancing at Melissa and Claude then.
"I still design things. It's in my blood, and who knows maybe once Melissa's in college I'll start something from the ground up again."
"You'd do that?"
"Sure. I actually liked that part of it as much as the designing. I wouldn't do it on such a large scale this time, though. I don't have to, you know. So I think I'd go with something more personal. Instead of going after Field's and Macy's I'd go after the small businesses that are owned by people like you and me."
"Huh," he said.
"You email me the demo you made of your songs," Claude said to Melissa. He tore a piece off his napkin and wrote something on it. John glanced at it, seeing Claude's personal email address on it. They each had band email addresses, which John had to practically be forced at gunpoint to check and respond to. The one he'd given her, though, was the one for friends.
"Yeah, sure," Melissa said, glancing from Claude to John and then to Claire as if she thought they were tricking her.
"When did she start writing her own stuff?" Claude asked Claire.
"When did she learn to write?" Claire asked.
"Really?" John asked.
"Yeah. She was always making stuff up."
"Impressive," John said.
"I'm going to get back to my room. You three have a good breakfast," he said. "Don't forget to send me that demo, Melissa."
"I won't," she said. John chuckled at the look on her face. She was wondering how on earth he thought she'd forget such a thing. John knew, though, school would pick up soon with finals and those college applications she filled out getting responses, and she'd get distracted with senior year stuff.
"So, where do you guys go from here?" John asked.
"Home," Melissa said.
"Yeah?" he asked, glancing from Melissa to Claire. "Wow, that's good."
"Yeah," Melissa said.
"Here," John said. "Hand me that napkin."
"Okay," Melissa said, looking a little worried at what he might do with it. He grabbed the pen Claude had used and added his phone number and email to the napkin. "I do not check my email often. Hardly ever to be honest, especially when we're on the road. I don't carry a laptop with me. You can call anytime, though."
"As long as your mom's cool with it, it's fine. We're staying put in the States for the most part with, I'm pretty sure some downtime coming up here. We're heading to Australia for a while, but I'm not sure when that is off the top of my head. I just know it's coming up. My phone works places like that, though."
"Wow," Melissa said. No doubt Claire wasn't nearly as impressed by that tour schedule as Claire traveled a lot. Did Melissa? She'd mentioned traveling before the husband died, but Melissa staying with the grandparents for things other than weekend trips.
"Have you been there?"
"Australia? No," she said.
Breakfast wasn't bad. They talked, mostly John listened, though as Melissa and Claire talked. However small his role was in it, they were talking because he'd called Claire. He felt pretty good about that.
"So," he said when they got back to his room. "I don't think we're getting back near this area again. We might have something in Iowa. Maybe you'd both like to come see us."
"We don't have to leave yet, do we, Mom? I didn't get to see the festival at all yesterday."
Claire sighed softly. "No, I guess not. I should call Ally and let her know to feed Scotty tonight again."
"I forgot about your dog."
"It's okay. He has a room off the garage that he can get out to the yard from and everything, but he can't feed himself."
"A room off the garage, huh?"
"Yeah. It's pretty cool," Melissa said. "It's like his own little doggy apartment. He's got a bed and toys in there with plenty of room to run around if it's raining out or something. The floors are easy to clean if he happens to have an accident, which doesn't happen with him. Princess it did when she got older. She'd forget I guess that she could get out the doggy door."
John chuckled. "I'll have to check it out sometime. Wait," he said, glancing at Claire. "You had a dog named Princess?"
"Melissa named her," Claire said with a shake of her head.
"Uh huh," he said. "If you say so."
"Can I?" Melissa asked, sounding a little shy. "Go see Sean?"
"I guess," Claire said, glancing at John who merely shrugged. He still hadn't decided what he thought about the kid after all of this. "No drinking."
"Actually I think she was reading my mind because I was about to say the same thing," John said.
"Great," she said. "One time. I'm never going to live it down, am I?"
She left then and John heard her knocking on the door next to his while Claire took her cell phone out.
"Allison will be all right doing that?"
"Yeah," Claire said.
"That's nice of her. I didn't realize you two talked." Melissa had mentioned Allison, and now that he thought about it she'd called her Claire's best friend. John just hadn't realized that close of a friendship had formed between those two.
"Well, she was pretty nice actually when I was pregnant with Melissa."
"Oh," he said.
"She moved down to Champaign to be close to Andy. They lived together after our freshman year, but I was there as often as we could be."
"What did you do with Melissa after you had her?"
"Mom and Dad watched her when I went to school."
"I should have known."
"Yeah," she said, holding up a finger. She left a message for Allison and disconnected.
"What does she want to do?"
"Probably go to the carnival for a while."
"What are you going to Australia for?"
"Oh, stupid question I guess."
"Not completely. I don't travel much for fun, though."
"So you've gone all these places, but never seen them?"
"Not really, no. I mean I've done a couple things. We played London and Lois dragged us to see all sorts of shit."
"Claude's late wife."
"Oh," she said. "How long ago did she die?"
"Is he okay?"
John shrugged. "I don't really know. I think so. He's clean and everything. He doesn't talk about her much. They weren't married for a hugely long time and his first two wives gave him so much shit. He couldn't see his kids for a while after that. Two of them still won't talk to him."
"Oh," she said.
"So, I imagine there are days he'd rather be stoned so he could forget about the fact his own kids won't talk to him."
"And then you come along with yours who wants to talk to you."
"I don't think it's like that, really, I don't. You saw him at breakfast."
"He was very good to her."
"His oldest is a little younger than Melissa. Fifteen, maybe fourteen. The next oldest is a year or so younger. I know he misses them. I never thought he was a bad father, even when he was using. He just wasn't around much. Anyway, I'll let you go do your carnival thing together. Sean's room is right next to mine. You may as well complete scaring the crap out of him and go knock on his door to get her."
"Where to from here?"
"Peoria. Then St. Louis, Kansas City, Omaha, and the Quad Cities, I think."
"Why do you do so many of things in towns like this? Oktoberfest and carnivals?"
He shrugged. "We like them. I don't know. It's different than a concert. We can actually connect with fans, talk to new ones. The new ones tell their friends how cool we are and when we come back through at a venue not a carnival they buy tickets. Plus radio stations talk us up being here so we get more air play. Air play means more records sell."
"I suppose," she said.
"And, it keeps us playing. We all like to perform. We spent most of September in Canada. We'll do those towns I just named and have a break before Australia with more downtime than any of us like."
"What will you do?"
"At that point, probably close up my place in New York and spend a good amount of time at my place in Tampa."
"On the beach?"
"Yes," he said. "My place in New York is the size of a postage stamp, but I'm so seldom there I just need a place to hang my hat and shower. So it suits my needs and when I get tired of beaches and sunshine during the winter I can go up there for a weekend or whatever until I'm ready to leave again."
"Why not do that in Chicago?"
"Why would I want to do that in Chicago?"
"I suppose," she said.
She actually looked as if that answer may have bothered her. Why? He hadn't lived in Chicago in over ten years. New York suited his purposes, and his lifestyle, much better. The place in Tampa he'd bought about two years ago when they were going to have months of a break during the winter. Months in New York during the winter didn't appeal to him so he'd bought the place on a lark while vacationing down there with a girl he'd been dating at the time. She probably thought she'd hit the mother lode or something when he'd bought the place.
"Anyway, I don't mean to hold up your mother-daughter time or anything. I'm sure you're itching to make up for lost time and stuff."
"Yes. Other than a week or two she went to camp over the years this is the longest I've gone without talking to her and doing things with her. It's been awful. I hope she comes home tonight and stays for good this time. At least when she was at camp she wrote me letters. This not talking business hasn't been fun."
"Well, I'm sorry I was the cause of it."
"You weren't the cause of it, John. Without you she wouldn't even be here. I never blamed you for what has been happening between us. I'm still not sure why Stu told her those things. He was jealous of you, I guess, and so sick towards the end there."
"Well, I'm still sorry."
"Nothing to apologize for."
He glanced at the bed they'd slept on. Claire had even made it, which was something John never bothered doing when he stayed in hotels. He'd never thought of a room with just his stuff in it being empty before, but unlike Claude he'd never had a reason to have someone in a hotel room with him before last night. He didn't bring girlfriends with him because he'd never been serious enough with any of them to do that with.
He stepped up to her then, settling his hands against her hips. Fuck, he loved the way she looked at him. Even today. Likely she didn't want to look at him that way today, but she did and it still affected him the same way. He leaned down, kissing her. His hands moved from her hips to her back and lower to her ass.
"So, after the Quad Cities…"
"Would I be able to see you?"
"Is that a no?"
"It's an I don't think it's a good idea. Your life is so different than ours. Traveling weeks, months, out of the year. Women. Drugs."
"I flushed them down the toilet!"
"Yes, last night. If it was that easy to quit no one would lose jobs and marriages because they couldn't stop snorting their life away."
"I'm telling you I'm not like that."
"And if you're wrong?"
"Is that really what you want Melissa to see?"
"She knows I've been arrested."
"Yes," he said.
"I'm sorry. I didn't tell her."
"I'm just asking if it's possible."
"She's in school. Remember? She'll be gone most of the day and some evenings."
"Well, I wasn't asking just to see her. It was a collective you."
"She'd still be in school."
"Well, both would be nice I guess, but I wouldn't complain if I just got some time with you. I mean, it's time. You're not working you said. I'm not asking for…"
"Except we both know what you're standing here asking me for."
"Do we?" he asked, kissing her again. She was kissing him back, too. "Would that be so bad?"
"I don't want to see her hurt."
Likely she wasn't talking just about Melissa there. He couldn't blame her he supposed.
"And you think I do? I know. I fucked up. I was so fucking pissed off, though, Claire, I didn't know which way was up there for a while after I found out what was going on."
"I know. I heard you this morning."
"I meant what I said. You were the best thing to ever walk into my life, just the timing was bad. I'd thought about after you'd gone to school seeing you at Christmas or something. A more level playing ground, and then your dad showed up. I hated the idea of you with someone else."
"You did nothing to stop me from doing that!"
"Because I didn't think you wanted me to."
"Shows what you know."
"Your father made it abundantly clear your life did not have room for me in it."
"I know. You're going to Australia and wherever else you're going. You gave her your phone number, but you'll get busy and she won't be there for you to see and think about."
"You think I'm going to forget about her? You think I've ever forgotten? No."
"Yes, that's why no one even knew she existed."
"Oh, come on," he said. She wasn't pulling away from him, though, and he wasn't letting her go so he hoped this was a conversation and not an argument. "Don't throw that at me. It hasn't hurt you over the years nobody knowing."
"I know," she said. It hadn't. He had no doubt her life, and Melissa's, would have been quite different if anyone knew.
"And you want that? People finding out?"
"That's part of my hesitation. She's just fine without throwing that at her. My parents…"
"I don't give a flying fuck about what your parents say eighteen years later, Claire. They had the ability to control me back then because I didn't know better and I was scared. I didn't have the money to fight them even if I'd wanted to. They don't have a statutory rape charge to dangle in front of me as a threat today."
"No," she said.
"I know she sought me out because of what your husband told her and stuff, but the fact of the matter is she did. You can't put the horse back in the barn. I'm not going to go back to sending you checks once a month and nothing more."
"I understand that."
"The drugs went down the toilet and will stay there. I didn't use anything in front of her and wouldn't ever do that. I am not an addict. I didn't have to flush that shit down last night or the night in July. I could have put those pills back in the container and gone about my way. You wouldn't have been the wiser."
"Sean told me this morning about the pill."
"Yes. Maybe he suspected you already had or would if we talked and I didn't mention he'd told me about it."
"Huh," he said.
"He assured me it wasn't for her."
"I'm still not sure I believe him."
"I'm not either."
"Why did you let her go talk to him?"
"I don't think he's going to drug her with you and me right next door to them."
"Good point," he said.
"I'll think about it," she said.
"That's all I was asking you to do! I asked if I'd be able to. I mean if you don't want to be part of that well then I guess that's up to you. I'd like it to be, but I'd work it around her being in school. It's not as if I don't know anyone else in Chicago to see if she's tied up."
"I know," she said.
"Does it bother you she's musical?"
"No, it doesn't bother me. I wouldn't have encouraged it if it did. I'm glad she has something in common with you."
"Does she with you?"
"Yes. She can draw. I don't know if it'll turn into designing, but she can draw like crazy."
"Drawing and music. Your parents must be scared shitless."
Claire laughed softly at that before placing a kiss against his jaw.
"They haven't said."
"They don't have to. I'm sure they have nightmares about her slipping out of their grasp."
"She's never been in their grasp, John. They helped me, of course, but she's always been my daughter."
"Yet they're pushing her to law school."
"I've told her it's entirely up to her and that I'll support her whatever her decision is."
"What will Claude do with her music?"
"Listen to it, and if he likes it he'll make her an offer on us recording it."
"Offer? As in money?"
"As in money."
"I'm not sure I want her to get money."
"I'm not sure you could stop her at this point, and it's better someone like Claude. He'll treat her fairly. It depends on the song. If it's something that would sound better by a woman he might make her an offer that involves her recording it."
"I'm not sure…"
"You asked what he'd do. I'm telling you."
"And if he doesn't like it?"
"Well, he's not an asshole, if he doesn't like it I think for someone like her versus a stranger sending him a demo asking him to listen to it. I think he'd offer her some advice on what she could do next time or whatever."
"She'd love that. She's comfortable playing, the writing she's shy about."
"I can't guarantee for someone not her he wouldn't be an asshole if it was bad, but I promise you if it is he'd be nice about it."
"So, you leave the room here," he said, stepping away finally.
"Melissa has my number, I have your house number. Can I call?"
He hadn't asked permission the previous calls, but he was now. If she said no he wasn't quite sure what he'd do. Not call? He didn't like that idea, though, and he wasn't sure which bothered him more. Not talking to her or Melissa.
He tried to envision not having to work at their age. He couldn't do it. He had a nice bit saved up so he wasn't destitute. If he was smart he'd sell his place in New York because he seemed to be spending less and less time there. He'd gone there originally because the busyness appealed to him. Now when he had time on his hands he was less worried about night life than he had been ten, even five, years ago.
"Do you need help taking your stuff down?"
"No, it's only a bag."
"All right. I'll walk you down anyway I guess, say goodbye to her."
He grabbed his key from the dresser.
"You could come with us," she said.
"You said you didn't play tonight."
"No, we don't."
"It's up to you."
"When would Allison go by to feed your dog?"
"About five or six."
He glanced at the clock on his nightstand. That was hours from now yet, and if Allison fed him they wouldn't be in a huge hurry to leave due to a starving dog.
"Yeah, sure," he said. "Sean's going to want to go too, I bet."
"After you're done in the Quad Cities, would you bring him, too?"
"No," he said. "Does that help my chances at getting a yes out of you?"
"It might," she said.
Story ©Susan Falk/APCKRFAN/PhantomRoses.com