"What are you doing?" Claude asked.
"Checking my email," John said with a frown. "Why? What are you doing?"
He shrugged. "You've been quiet for days now. Everything okay?"
John regarded him over the laptop. No, everything was not okay, but he wasn't sure he wanted to admit that.
"Dandy," he said then.
"Everything okay with the girl?" Claude asked. He and Sean were still the only two that knew anything about Melissa and he planned on keeping it that way for a while. Especially now. He didn't care really who found out, but now he wasn't sure what the fuck was up.
"Yes," John said.
He'd just finished reading an email from Melissa, in fact. She asked if she could call him over the weekend. He hadn't replied yet, but of course she could call him whenever she wanted. He was guessing she wanted to tell him over the phone about some college acceptance letters versus an email. He knew she applied to some pretty top notch colleges, and from what Claire had described she had the grades to get into any of them. Claire had mentioned a couple of scholarship opportunities for music, too. He wasn't sure how seriously she would take those offers.
"Good. I mean, it is good, right? She left here you were on good terms and stuff."
"Yes," John said.
"Okay. So what's up?"
"Nothing's up, Claude. Believe it or not, I can be in a bad mood once in a while without a reason."
"True, but you were in a good mood when I first got down here and we started working on some songs."
"If she's pulled away or something, that's probably kind of normal."
"John has a girl," Noel said, walking into the room.
"Fuck, really," John said, glaring at Claude. "No," John said to Noel. "John does not have a girl."
"But Claude just said…" He shook his head a little as if thinking over what he'd just heard. Fortunately, Noel was probably pretty stoned at the moment so maybe he'd pass it off as a misunderstanding. "Forget it."
"Thank you," John said. Whether it was the pot or the look on John's face he'd never know.
"John wants to have a girl," Claude said.
"Really?" Noel asked. "Is she hot?"
"She is," Claude said.
"Wait. You've met her? Have I?"
"I saw her," Claude said.
"You're an asshole, Claude. I don't want anyone."
"Really? When was the last time you went on a date?"
"So? That means I want someone? I've been busy. We were in Canada for a month and Australia for a month. Remember?"
"I remember," he said.
"You've had time to date."
"Sure. If you say so. Maybe you're thinking of yourself. I'm not the one that gets married and engaged every time I'm out of a relationship."
"Ouch," Claude said.
"Yeah, well, fuck you bringing this shit up when you know I don't want it brought up."
"Then tell me what the fuck is wrong."
"Nothing," John said.
"Uh huh, okay. Well, whatever then. I'm going out."
"Wanna come with?"
"Maybe it'd be good for you to get out and away from here for a while. We've been working hard. We deserve some fun, too."
"I know," John said. They'd been busy working because they were on a deadline. Coked out of his mind the producer he'd run into on New Year's Eve remembered John mentioning March and so now they were getting the screws put to them to produce. Not usually a problem, and it wasn't really. They all got punchy sometimes, though.
John regarded his computer again and Melissa's email.
Mom went out with her best friend Allison and her husband Andy and that guy again. She said she wouldn't be late, which probably means she'll be home by ten o'clock. I don't get it. Is it me? Does she think I can't handle her dating the guy? Does she think I'll think badly of her because of Stu? She did nothing really but care for him the entire time they were married. She had to be ready for him to be gone before it actually happened. Maybe that's not a good thing to say? I don't know. I just want her happy, you know? Allison obviously does, too. So, it's not just me. Allison wouldn't set her up with someone if it was wrong to do that. Would she?
She'd said some other things. Then she closed with something that bothered him more than the thought of Claire going out on a date with the guy she'd gone out with before. Did Melissa not realize he knew who Allison and Andy were? Apparently not. (He still couldn't get over the fact those two ended up married.)
I'm sorry I rambled. You said I could talk to you about anything. I know you're sitting there thinking that I need to get new friends that I feel comfortable telling you this, a man I hardly know, over the girls I've grown up with and known all of my life. Image, though, you know? I don't want people talking about Mom. All of my life she was the victim of stories and you, or the lack of you, in my life. I'd try to defend her against people who called her a slut because she was obviously young when she got pregnant with me, but the more I defended the more it seemed like I was arguing because I knew it was true. So I've learned just not to talk about her. My friends know the truth. People who know her know the truth. There's always someone who has to talk bad to draw attention away from their life, I guess. I mean, I know she dated when I was a kid. I'm not stupid. I guess at the time I didn't know what she was doing, but I remember going to Grandma and Grandpa's or Uncle Christopher's house because she had plans. Anyway, if you don't want me to send emails like this again, let me know, and I won't.
She ended with hoping the recording was going well. Sean likely had been filling her in on things from that point of view.
And, no, he absolutely did not want her to send him emails like it again, but not for the reason she would likely think. He'd never tell her that. If she needed to get something off her chest better to him who wasn't going to tell anyone, except maybe Claude, then to keep it in or tell someone who would tell people.
He absolutely did not want to think about Claire going out on a date. What the fuck did that mean? He thought… Well, he wasn't sure what he thought, but assumed something happened between them when she was down here over New Year's.
Even less than that. He didn't want to think about Claire alone. He'd never thought on things like that. He'd never put himself in a position to think about anything but how fucked her family was, and she was lumped in with them. He was the victim.
He'd called her some not so very nice things, not to her face and not in the presence of anyone else, but he'd said and thought them many times those first few years when he was sending money that he could ill afford. That changed after the first couple of years, the ill affording part. Then the cursing was aimed at her taking his fucking money for a few hours' worth of time. The money she was getting was, after all, interfering with him getting the booze and drugs he wanted.
He'd never stopped to think what people said about her over the years. He'd just assumed she was all right. She was Claire Standish. Who the fuck would think she was a slut?
Parents of other kids who hadn't grown up in Shermer knowing her.
"You," he said to Noel. "Get the fuck out of here."
"Uh, yeah, sure, whatever, Man," he said. He didn't look pissed, but it was hard to tell with Noel.
John stood then, grabbing his ashtray.
"So you're going with me?"
"Yeah, sure," John said, taking a drag off his cigarette. "I'll go get ready. Read that for me, will you?" John asked, pointing at the computer.
"Okay," Claude said with an amused look on his face. "It's nothing naughty, is it? I'm not sure I'm ready to see someone trying to have cybersex with you."
"No, it's from Melissa."
"Oh," Claude said.
"Is that really a thing?"
"It is," he said.
"Really? People do that over a computer?"
"You've never talked dirty to someone over the phone?"
"Well, yeah, sure. That was verbal, though, you know? Talking."
"You don't need a phone these days, John."
"I suppose not," he said, mulling that one over.
Claude chuckled then. "We'd better hope for Sean's sake he and Melissa haven't thought about that, eh?"
"Now I know you're tempting me to beat you over the head with my rolling pin."
"Do you own a rolling pin?"
"Yes, Dominick has one in the kitchen, I'm sure."
Claude chuckled again. "Go get dressed. I'll read."
"Thank you," John said, stubbing out his cigarette as he went to his room. "Close it when you're done."
"Uh huh," Claude said, clearly reading already. John knew he'd heard him. John also knew he probably would've shut it without John's asking. He knew John was pretty private, especially about this.
"Yeah," John called to the knock at his door.
He wasn't surprised to see Claude. He shut the door behind him once he'd come in.
"She trusts you," Claude said.
"She trusts you. Is that what you were wanting me to clarify for you?"
"What? No. What are you talking about?"
"The stuff she said. She's telling you because she trusts you."
John hadn't thought about it that way. He'd just thought about it from the perspective of someone to talk to who wasn't going to gossip.
"Don't fuck it up."
"I'm not trying to."
"What did you want to know?"
"Ah, the mom."
"Which part? The dating part? Or the disparaging remarks part?"
"Well, she didn't leave here with any sort of commitment from you, did she?"
"No," he said.
Claude shrugged. "Maybe she thinks that's the way it has to be. You live here."
"The place in New York has sold."
"Okay. You still live here."
"I had two places. I could have a second place again."
"Did you tell her that?"
"No! We didn't talk about anything like that."
John shrugged. "I don't know. It seemed too soon. It was the first time we've ever spent any time together really."
Claude chuckled at that.
"I don't know what you want me to say, John. If you tell the mom you know she's going to know that Melissa told you. You violate that trust."
"Yeah," John said with a slight nod.
"So, that's up to you. You wouldn't know she went on a date any other way."
"No," John agreed.
"Is she why you haven't dated?"
"No," John said.
"John? Be honest. You haven't since we saw them in July. Not really."
"So I'm not a horn dog."
"Except with her."
"Neither of us left that week feeling sexually deprived."
Claude scoffed at that.
"Are we going out or not?" John asked.
"You wanted me to read the email."
"Yes. I don't know what it means."
"It means if you like the mom you probably need to act fast. What has she said?"
"Nothing," John admitted.
"Not about a relationship."
"No, I mean, nothing. I haven't heard from her other than a card since she was here."
"Yes, a card telling me what a nice time they had. Handwritten, of course." John rolled his eyes at that. She'd said absolutely nothing personal in the note that indicated she'd spent every night for a week in bed with him.
"Have you called?"
"I have," he said.
"And she doesn't answer?"
"I either get the machine or Melissa."
"What does Melissa say?"
"I talk to Melissa, I don't ask for her mom."
"Maybe you should?"
"You're the one who told me to be careful if she thinks I'm spending time with her to get to her mom."
"Have you left messages?"
"I have," John said.
"And she hasn't called back?"
"No," John said.
"Maybe she didn't have a good time," Claude said. "Maybe she got home and realized she had too good of a time and felt guilty. The husband just died not that long ago, right?"
"Yes," John snapped.
"Sorry to speak the truth, Buddy."
"Yes, a year ago now. Almost anyway. March, I think I read."
"I don't know then. I really don't. I don't know her, and her world isn't familiar to me."
"Me either," John admitted.
"Grief can be very strange. Everyone is different."
"So I'm supposed to pretend I don't know she's going on dates?"
"I guess that depends on what you want."
"If you just want to fuck her then yes you're supposed to pretend that you don't know."
"I don't just want to fuck her," he said. "I know that look. I swear to God if you tell me that I like her again I'm going out without you."
"I actually think I underestimated how you felt about her."
"Whatever. Let's go."
"No, no. You don't get to bail on the conversation just because it's starting to hit too close to home. You love her?"
John sighed softly. "Yes, always have."
"Then you have a decision to make."
"About what? She's not talking to me!"
"Yeah, do you blame her? Nineteen years ago you had sex with her and got her pregnant. Nothing from you for years. You show up eighteen years later…"
"I paid child support. Don't throw this nothing from me for years shit at me."
"Child support is not the work, John. You know it, or what Melissa said in that email wouldn't have bothered you. She was the one raising your child. And she did a pretty fine job from what I can tell."
"She did," John agreed. "I never questioned her ability to mother. I questioned my ability to father."
"She's not going to let herself get hurt by you again, John. You had sex. No big deal for you, and she knows that I'm sure. So, she maybe feels guilty about that, too. Who knows? Throw into it if people really called her names like that and she heard it. Maybe she feels guilty that that happened again with you and it's true."
"It's not true! Jesus Christ, one day of having sex doesn't make her a slut or anything else."
"People can believe what they want to. Herself included."
"Yeah," John said.
"You've stayed away you said because of her dad, not knowing what he'd do. You need to find that out, too."
"Fuck. If I never see him again…"
"But you're contemplating getting involved with his daughter and granddaughter, John. You're going to see him again."
"I don't have to."
"You will have to."
"It's a fucking a lot of trouble to go through for someone who won't even fucking talk to me and is going out with other guys."
"Sure, and Melissa said she was probably going to be home by ten o'clock. It doesn't sound like a hot date. It sounds like a widow whose best friend wants to get her out of the house."
"What would you tell her if she was talking to you?"
"I'd tell her I wanted to see her again."
"She let you in the house once before without an invitation."
"Are you suggesting I just show up there?"
"And she slams the door in my face?"
"Then you'll know."
"Fantastic. Let's get the fuck out of here," he said, grabbing his wallet and keys from his dresser.
"Done talking, I guess."
"Yes," John said.
"One last question?" Claude asked as John was about to turn off the light to his room.
"Your room or hers?"
John chuckled. "Mine."
"So she had to come to you every night?"
"Yes," John said.
Did that mean something? He wasn't sure. He would've gone to her if she'd said she wanted him to. "She didn't seem to mind."
"I'm sure she didn't."
Fuck if he understood what Claude was trying to say. Like the specific compliment shit. Then again, John wasn't sure he should be taking love life advice from a twice divorced, two more times engaged guy.
"It's Valentine's Day next week, isn't it?" Claude asked.
"You could always send her some flowers."
"Just what I want to do."
"No man wants to do it, but it sure gets a woman's attention when we do it. No offense, John, but if you're actually thinking of getting involved with her I think Valentine's Day flowers are the least of the things you're going to have to do."
"I imagine you're right."
Sean opened his door then, looking as though he was heading out, too.
"Where are you going?" Claude asked.
"Food," Sean said. "I'm going to chat with Melissa later."
"I swear to God, Sean, if I look at your computer or phone and see one inappropriate picture of either of you two…"
Sean paled then and Claude laughed.
"She's eighteen now," Sean said.
"Wrong response, Sean," John said simply.
"So you want me to treat her the opposite way you treated her mother is what you're saying?"
It'd been a long, long time since John had thrown a punch. He couldn't recall ever doing it sober, but his arm shot out so fast, connecting with Sean's jaw and then a second one followed to his cheek without thought of what he was doing or why. It was just instinct. Sean fell back against the wall behind him, his head hitting it pretty hard in the process. John grabbed him by the shirt front with one hand and hit him again as Claude grabbed John from behind. John got a couple good punches in before Claude pulled him off of Sean. Noel and Billy came out of their rooms to see what was going on. Candy and Farrah opened their doors, too. No one seemed to know what was going on.
"You're a nurse you said, right?" John said looking at Farrah.
"That'll come in handy, I guess. He probably needs some help," he said. "Dominick will get you anything you need."
Farrah knelt by Sean and Candy went back to her room. Noel and Billy were just staring at John as if he'd sprouted a second head or something.
"Let's get the fuck out of here," he said to Claude.
For once Claude said nothing.
Story ©Susan Falk/APCKRFAN/PhantomRoses.com