Chapter Seventeen
Word Count: 3,398

"Did you really think I'd kiss someone in front of Melissa?" she asked later. Much later. They'd gotten back to his place around three in the morning. He'd proven to Claire that he could very capably carry Melissa. Claire did what she needed to do in Melissa's bedroom from there. If it had been him with one of his friends he would have just left them on the bed, but he supposed that wouldn't fly for a mom to do with her child.

As if he'd know what normal mom's did with their kids.

Claire had joined him in his room eventually, wearing the robe she'd had on earlier (and nothing else he discovered pretty quickly).

"I don't know," he said, sliding a hand along her hip. "I don't know what you do."

"I've never kissed anyone but Stu in front of her. You now I guess."


"Yes, really. I told you she never met anyone until him."

"Maybe you did, I guess I didn't think you meant ever."

"I was very careful."


Claire shrugged.

"I didn't want her to get attached to anyone. I didn't want to judge anyone based on how they got along with her or how they treated her. I didn't want her to be a ploy to get to me."

"Oh," he said.

"We did all right."

"I'd say you did more than all right."


"Sure. I kissed her earlier," he said.


He chuckled softly. "Sorry. Bad segue I guess. You're not in my mind to follow my train of thought. When you got home from your appointments. You were checking on your dresses and she came to see me in the studio."

"Oh, yes."

"We were talking. I don't know what about exactly. She wanted to play a guitar and I told her she might chip a nail and you'd get mad. I told her we could play tonight if she still wanted to, which seemed to surprise her. We talked about the fact I really do want her here and that I don't think of myself as a dad even though that's what I am. So like a moment, I guess and so I kissed her. On the forehead, which she probably thought was ridiculous. She could apply more lipstick," he shrugged. "That doesn't come naturally to me because I didn't have it. You know? Affection."

"I know."

"I didn't know what to do then either, so I just asked her if we should come find you. I mean, I have absolutely nothing to pull from on how to behave in situations like that. She probably thinks I'm an idiot or an asshole."

"Are you asking me if she said anything?"

"No. I just wanted to say it, I guess. I tried not to think about it at the time."

"I didn't really know either at first, John. I'd never held a baby in my life until her. My parents while better than yours weren't great either. I did get kisses, I suppose."

"You've done fine, though, obviously."

"Sure because I had no choice."


"I didn't mean it like that. I'm just saying I didn't have one. I knew I didn't want to be like Mom and Dad so I did the opposite as often as I could. That meant loving her and being there whenever I could be. Having my own business helped immensely. I could do field trips and school plays."

"I'm glad."

"Me, too."

"I bet she is, too."

"I think she got tired of it after a while and then I got married. Things were a little different. She was no longer my sole focus. Then Stu got sick and she wasn't even really my focus anymore."

"I'm sure she totally understands that."

"I know. I mean, realistically, but then she got mad at me and it's just been a big blur of emotion since then. You know?"

"She's not mad anymore."

"No. At least not as mad."


"There are varying degrees of anger, though, and I'm sure there will still be some bitterness due to the fact she wasn't there eighteen years ago to understand where we were and how my father was. He's grandpa to her and can do no wrong."

"You were fairly fond of him, too."

"Sure, between the two of them he's the most functioning and level-headed."

"So, can I ask a question?"

"Besides that one, you mean?"

"Ha ha, smart ass. Yes," he said. He really wanted to get off the subject of her dad if he could. Another time and place maybe he'd love to discuss him further, but not tonight.

"Sure," she said.

"You said earlier it wasn't me. Wanting me behind you."

After tonight he was especially fond of being behind her while they were on their sides, but it still made him … curious.

"It's not," she said.


She didn't say anything else.

"Sorry. None of my business. I know, stupid of me to ask."

"No, that's not it."


"You're the only one I've done anything but that with."

"Come again?"

"My experience before marrying Stu wasn't vast. A few times here and there. It always changed things afterward, though."


"Oddly, the guys I did that with seemed to take it as a sign I was ready to settle down with them."

"Oh," he said. "You weren't?"

"No, but Jesus, I was in my twenties. I had needs."

"Sure," he said.

"We didn't have a choice that day but to do something other than you on top of me."

"Right. I remember."

"I've never had that otherwise, and I knew because of that day you wouldn't think there was something wrong with me."

"Wrong with you?" He laughed softly at that.

"Yeah, for wanting that."

"You think that's wrong?"

"I don't know. No one's ever tried to do anything but that."

"Not even Stu?"


He kissed her shoulder and shifted them a bit so he was on top of her instead of behind her.

"Did you ask?"

"How do you ask something like that?"

"You asked me."

"Sure because I knew you'd at least been open to the idea once before."

He shrugged. "I suppose," he said.

"I felt weird asking, I guess."

"Not with me?"

"You don't think this means I'm going to marry you. You're not going to see me next week. You're not going to walk around telling people that Melissa's mother likes weird things."

"There's nothing weird about what we've done, Claire."

"Yes, but…"

"There is no but. Did we both consent?"


"Did we both enjoy it?"


He chuckled.

"Then there's nothing wrong or weird. I assure you I'm not going to tell anyone what we do."

"I know. You would have then if you were going to."

"Oh, it was tempting."

"Why didn't you?"

How to explain it?

"I didn't want people knowing that about you."

That was as simply put as he could make it. Why he'd cared about people knowing that she'd had sex with him and not anyone else hadn't occurred to him for a while. He knew nothing about love to understand that's what he felt until it was too late.

He could just imagine what her dad would have done if John had uttered the word love when he'd come to tell John he was going to be a father. He would have laughed at him and gone to the cops with the rape charges.

"There are some fun me on top positions, you know," he said.

"No," she said, blushing and he chuckled.

"I'd ask for names so that I could educate those men, but I don't want to know."

"There haven't been many. Maybe it was just me?"

"It's not you. Trust me I've been behind someone on our sides before and it wasn't nearly that enjoyable."

"You're just saying that."

"I'm not! It was awkward and just not really enjoyable. Neither of those things came into play tonight."

"No," she said, shaking her head a bit.

"I have four more nights to show you."

"You do."

"I plan on doing just that, but you know if you decide you really want me behind you instead speak up."

"You do seem to like that."

"Well, yeah," he said, sliding his hand between her legs.

"What are you doing?"

"Going to start right now showing you. Being a new year and all, may as well start it out right."


"Yes already. Sue me that you excite me." He was going to guess Stu hadn't been a more than once kind of guy based on her surprise that he did want to and could. He was guessing that was pre-health issues at any rate. None of his business and he didn't want to know the answer when all was said and done.

He had no desire to see her leave here doubting him. About his being ready or the enjoyable ways he could be on top of her.


Here was a first. The women were ready and waiting on him. He was on his third tie and feeling absolutely ridiculous at the idea that he was nervous about having dinner with his daughter on her birthday.

He'd left it up to Dominick to book the reservation so they were going to a pretty nice restaurant that was more for dates than the type of dinner they were having. Dominick's idea of a joke? Perhaps. John hadn't told him who Melissa was. It was none of his business. He'd never gossiped that John knew of, but he wasn't going to take the chance with this.

Finally he decided on a tie, wondering as he adjusted it if he'd ever owned anything Claire had designed. He'd never know, he supposed.

He was saving her gift for when they got home, and hoping Claire wouldn't get upset with him about it.

Dinner was fantastic, which John knew it would be. He wasn't an overly frequent customer of the place since he didn't go on romantic dates very often. He'd been there a time or two over the years, though, and had never been disappointed. He wagered that was why Dominick had chosen it. That and it wasn't a place where John would be a super well known commodity.

They drove along the coast again, heading north and west instead of south as they'd done on New Year's Eve. They got out in Clearwater Beach and walked for a bit. Neither of them were wearing stockings so they took off their shoes while they did that. Claire even held his hand, which surprised him.

Melissa didn't seem bothered by that, if she even noticed. He presumed she did, but she was more interested in seeing what kind of shells she could find along the beach.

"Did you collect shells?" he asked.

"Sure. Not down here so much, no. We never did something like walk along the beach. At my grandparents' lake house, though, I had a bucket that I'd add to every year."

"What happened to the bucket?"

"You know, I don't know. I stopped spending several weeks at a time there when I was about thirteen, I guess. I was too cool to do that anymore."

John snorted softly at that.

"I imagine it's still there. I'll have to look the next time I'm there."

"You own it?"

"I do. They left it to me. Christopher didn't want it."

"That's nice. That they left it to you, I mean."

"I loved going there. He never did as much. Even after I started high school I still went there for a week or two at a time. Usually I'd go a week after school let out and then two weeks in August."

"Is it nice?"

"It is. It's pretty basic. It was my mom's parents. Grandpa built it with one of his friends."



"You're really lucky then."

"I am. I'm even luckier that Melissa never got to that point I did. She loves going up there as much as I do. She didn't go last summer, obviously. The summer before, though, Stu wanted to spend as much time there as we could. He didn't need twenty-four hour a day medical attention at that point, so it was feasible to do that. Toward the end there it wouldn't have been because the nearest hospital is about an hour away."

"No doctor?"

"Not nearby, no."

"Huh. Sounds rustic."

"It is. There's a restaurant, a bar that is also a restaurant, a general store, a couple of churches, and I think a couple of other bars."

"You think?"

"I've never gone to them since I've had Melissa since I was legal to go into one."

"I suppose," he said.

"It's small, though."

"I'm not sure I've ever spent time somewhere like that. I guarantee I never had you pegged as someone who had and enjoyed it at that."

"I guess I didn't know any different. By the time we met I wasn't going there for more than a week maybe and I usually brought a friend with me so I wasn't bored."

He chuckled softly at that.

"Hey, Melissa," he said.

"Yeah?" she asked, turning to face him. She looked happy as she pushed some hair away from her face due to the wind. It wasn't crazily windy, but they were on the water so there was wind.

"You ready for cake? I think there's something else for you at the house, too."

"Really?" she asked, sounding surprised.

Maybe she was.

Maybe he wasn't supposed to buy her a gift. He was in very new territory here. His old man's way of celebrating John's birthday was giving him some cigarettes and holding off with the night's beating until the next day.

"You bought her a cake?" Claire asked.

"Dominick made a cake. I was going to order a cake, but he said he'd make one. He likes baking, I guess, and doesn't get much of a chance to do that working for me."

"No cookies?"

"Not really, not when it's just me there."

"I suppose not."

Claire didn't seem mad about the guitar, which may have been because she didn't realize how much it cost. Melissa had an idea, and she was more than a little surprised. Claire had gone up to bed over two hours ago, leaving them to play together. John always loved playing a new guitar for the first time, learning the ins and outs of how to make it sound the way he wanted it to. Melissa was no different, and he loved seeing the look on her face as she worked at tuning it just the way she wanted it.

"Why'd you choose this one?" she asked when they finished up for the night.

"I don't know. I liked the look of it. The fifties," he said with a shrug. "Makes me think of Buddy Holly, I guess."

"It's beautiful," she said.

She didn't want to put it away, which was obvious.

"We'll play more tomorrow. We've been down here for over two hours since your mom went to bed."

"Are you two dating?"

"No," John said.

"You kissed her…"

"I know," John said.

"You were holding her hand tonight."

"I won't deny I like your mother more than a little. Maybe I shouldn't have kissed her at the party like that. I got caught up in the moment, I guess. Her looking nice like that. I wasn't thinking you'd see us."

"Oh," she said.

"I like having you here," he said. "Enough I'd want you to come again if you'd like."

"With Mom?"

"That'd be up to you two."

"You're selling your place in New York?"

"I'm trying to. That doesn't mean we couldn't spend time there if that's what you wanted to do. They have more than a few hotels there."

"I know."

"So, think about it, I guess, when you get home. Maybe you'll get home and this week was too much. I don't know. Maybe I didn't use the right fork at dinner and you're embarrassed to possibly be linked to me."

She laughed at that.

"Don't be ridiculous."

"Your grandparents…"

"I suppose they would, but I'm not like them."

"No, you're not."

He took the few steps he needed to so that he could hug her. She hugged him back. He kissed the top of her head, surprised at how … easy it was to do things like that. He'd never had anyone in his life to be nice to. He'd had girlfriends, but they seldom just wanted him to hug them. Not like this anyway.

"Happy Birthday," he said.

"Thank you," she whispered. Her voice catching a bit made him think she was crying.

"You're welcome. Thank you for being curious enough about me so that you can be here for it with me."

She didn't seem in any hurry to let go of him, so he just stayed like that. Eventually, she let go of him and he stepped away. He wasn't sure how he felt about that look on her face. Surprise. Affection. Affection with no expectations of stuff. He'd never had that. Other than with her mom maybe. And one day didn't count in the grand scheme of things. A glimmer of something that was possible but was forbidden like everything else most everyone else in Shermer took for granted.

"Dinner was okay and everything?"

"Yeah, it was really nice."

"Good. I'm glad."

He watched as she put the guitar back in its case before flipping off the light and heading upstairs with her.

"Your mom mentioned shopping tomorrow."

"Yeah, I know."

"I think I may sit that out," John said.

"I like shopping with her."



"You're definitely her daughter then, so that's good. I'll be here when you're back, though."

"All right."

She went into her room and John walked down the hall to his. He was almost positive Claire was going to be in his room so he didn't turn the light on. He went to the bathroom to get ready for bed before joining her.

"Hi," she whispered when he kissed her shoulder once he slid behind her.

"Why do you insist on wearing clothes?"


"it's a horrible habit," he whispered.


"It's a crime keeping your body covered."

"Very funny."

"I'm not joking or lying."

"Did you two have a nice time?"

"Yeah, it was, thanks. Sorry we took a while."

"I figured you would be. I can't remember seeing her eyes light up like that."

"Not even over her Mustang?"

"That was different, but yes."

"I'm glad she likes it. I like those retro guitars," he shrugged.

"It looked very cool."

"I'll make a deal with you," he whispered, working one of the buttons on her top.


"You go to bed tomorrow night the way you're supposed to and I'll play for you."


"Why? Well, to make up for not dancing with you the other night. Before midnight we were both occupied and then afterward you were so concerned people were going to think we were dating." He shrugged. It bothered him she cared that much about that. He supposed she had a point, but he didn't care and didn't know how many times he could say it before she believed him. She hadn't been upset with him they hadn't danced or anything, but she had commented about Melissa getting a dance instead of her. He hadn't worried about Melissa judging him either. He did with Claire, knowing there were plenty of guys who could dance circles around him. "Plus, tomorrow night is our last night."

"I know," she whispered. She shifted a bit so he could take her top off.

"I want you naked."

"I've been naked!"

"From the moment you get into my bed."

"And you'll play for me?"

"Uh huh," he murmured, finding her belly button. He circled it with his tongue before kissing along the edge of it.

"Anything I want?"

"Uh huh," he said again, sliding lower. He kissed a path down as he did that, settling between her legs.

"Fine. Yes," she hissed and he chuckled at that. "You still owe me a dance, though," she whispered under her breath as she gasped. Owing her one meant maybe she planned on collecting. He was okay with that.

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